There’s no better way to summarize my feelings at the final home game of Todd Helton last Wednesday than by stealing a quote from Brad Pitt as he played Billy Beane in Moneyball. How can you not be romantic about baseball?
This may be the only time I’ve said this in a long time, but kudos to the Rockies organization. They put together a beautiful series of ceremonies and tributes in honor of their now-retired first baseman. It made the 15-5 whacking the home team received from the Red Sox worth watching.
It was refreshing that for one night, Peyton Manning took a backseat to another local star. But he was still a big part of the evening. After the Toddfather was surprised with a horse for his ranch, Manning and his baby boy (wearing a Helton jersey, of course) shared a nice moment in the dugout.
The Broncos’ quarterback also highlighted one of many video tributes dedicated to number 17. Some other notables included John Elway, Clint Hurdle, Eric Church, Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi and Chipper Jones
The game itself had the early feel of an old Coors Field slugfest, as both teams traded blows in the first few innings. And before you knew it, Helton took his first few steps from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box, where he was promptly greeted by a standing ovation from the sellout crowd.
The 40-year-old then delivered a scene that I sure will never forget. On an 87 mile-per-hour cutter from Jake Peavy in a 1-1 count, Helton jacked his 15th home run of the season and 369th of his career.
Sitting in the purple row of the upper deck with my family, I went bananas. I was sicker than a dog, but that wasn’t stopping me from reveling in the most emotional sports moment I’ve ever been a part of.
Helton wound up getting three more plate appearances. He drove in another run during his second at-bat on a sacrifice fly and doubled in a third run as he nearly launched an opposite field home run. No one could have scripted a more fitting last base hit in Denver for Helton than with another double that forced a determined headfirst slide into second.
Maybe the most emotional part of the evening for the Toddfather came in the top of the ninth inning, when his two daughters sprinted toward him at first base. Helton had no idea they would be surprising him and the three embraced before his oldest took out first base, her dad’s most prized office supply for the last 17 years, and ran back behind home plate.
Soon after the clock struck midnight on Helton’s career at Coors Field, he led his team on a fan appreciation lap around the ballpark. A casual baseball fan in attendance got the perfect sense of how much of a mark Helton left as numerous Red Sox players waited as he finished circling the field so they could have one last personal goodbye with the legend.
I wish Todd nothing but the best in his retirement and well-deserved time with family. Opening Day next season won’t be the same without number 17 patrolling first base.