The softer, sentimental side of Todd Helton emerged Monday afternoon at Coors Field when the icon of the Rockies' franchise formally announced his retirement from Major League Baseball.
"When I first got to the big leagues 17 years ago, I had and energy and a passion that was great," said Helton, who first confirmed to The Denver Post on Saturday that he was retiring at the end of this season. "I'm excited to have that same passion as I start a new phase of my life."
But it was clear that Helton will have a hard time letting go of the game of his life. He teared up several times and his voice broke as he said good-bye. Many of Helton's current teammates, along with manager Walt Weiss and most of the Rockies' staff, were on hand. So was Matt Holliday, the current Cardinals outfielder who helped the Rockies and Helton reach the World Series in 2007.
"He was an elite player for a long time," Holliday said. "He is a Hall of Famer to me."
Helton — who was set to start at first base and hit fifth later in the day against the visiting Cardinals — was joined at the podium by Christy, and his daughters. Tierney and Gentry.
"It's been an honor to be your first baseman for the last 17 years," Helton said, addressing the audience and, clearly, the Rockies' fans. "I have grown from a man, to a husband and into a father. We have seen the good times and the bad. It's been a pleasure to share all of that with you."
Helton thanked many people, from original Rockies owner Jerry McMorris to manager former Clint Hurdle, who now leads the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Helton praised the Rockies fans, breaking into his Tennessee drawl when he said,
"Ya'll have been a model of consistency."
Helton joked, too, wondering how the women who held up the "Todd Helton, No. 17" sign in center field manage to hold up the banner night after night.
Beginning Monday night against the St. Louis Cardinals, Helton has 12 games remaining in his career. Asked what he would like to do in the remaining game, he said, "I'd like to hit about 40 more home runs."
Helton choked up when he talked about missing coming through the tunnel to begin games, and leaving the games at night when the ballpark was dark. He said he's going to miss working in the batting cage, a place where he honed his craft to the tune of a .317 career batting average, a .415 on-base percentage, 2,505 career hits, 367 home runs and 586 doubles (16th all-time).
Asked about the possibility of being inducted into the Hall of Fame, Helton said: "Obviously it's an honor to be even considered in that discussion, but that's for a later date."