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Gazette Premium Content Klee: Waste Tulo's prime years? Don't do it, Rockies

photo - Colorado Rockies Carlos Gonzalez (5) is congratulated by Troy Tulowitzki (2) after hitting a solo home run off of San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner during the third inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Monday, April 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) + caption
Colorado Rockies Carlos Gonzalez (5) is congratulated by Troy Tulowitzki (2) after hitting a solo home run off of San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner during the third inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Monday, April 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
By Paul Klee Updated: September 24, 2013 at 11:44 pm

DENVER - An hour before the Broncos and Raiders kicked off "Monday Night Football," I spotted a familiar face behind the north goal posts.

There was Troy Tulowitzki, a Broncos jersey stuffed in the back pocket of his blue jeans, shagging field goals off the foot of Sebastian Janikowski.

Tulo witnessed greatness Monday night. Thanks to Peyton Manning, we all did.

"You realize when guys are at the top of the game, there's a reason they got there," Tulo said of the Broncos quarterback. "He's a leader. He's someone you can learn a lot from."

Tulo witnessed a great organization Monday night. Thanks to the Broncos, we all did.

Allow me to speak for the diehards who make Colorado a better baseball state than we are given credit for: Please, Rockies. Take a cue from the Broncos.

Give your franchise player an honest chance to win a championship.

As we watch Todd Helton slip into retirement with his final home game Wednesday, don't waste Tulo in his prime.

Not to throw a tub of ice on Helton's feel-good farewell, but how's this for a splash of reality: Wednesday also could be final home game at Coors Field for Tulo.

Think the Cardinals, who need a shortstop, would mind adding a 28-year-old superstar to their middle infield? The Cardinals have young arms. The Rockies covet young arms.

There are two things that would make me sicker than skunky beer at the ballpark.

Seeing Tulo play 17 years in Colorado and reach the playoffs twice, like Helton did. Seeing a homegrown talent like Tulo in another jersey.

I believe these Rockies, with three solid starting pitchers at the top of the rotation, don't need an overhaul to build a playoff contender in the expanded wild-card era.

But if they stand pat, again, the Rockies are wasting two of the game's great players in Tulo and Carlos Gonzalez.

When the Broncos signed Manning, they surrounded their franchise player with a supporting cast capable of winning a world championship.

Wes Welker and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie don't come cheap.

The Rockies' biggest offseason acquisition? Wilton Lopez. 'Nuff said.

Who is the best shortstop in baseball?

"Tulo," Grantland.com baseball writer and Denver resident Jonah Keri told me without a breath of hesitation.

Red Sox fans turned Coors Field in Fenway West on Tuesday. Prior to first pitch, Tulo guided a family of giddy Rockies fans through the clubhouse and indoor batting cages.

There are times when I wonder if Tulo is simply a tour guide for the Rockies, an All-Star talent who draws fans to the ballpark for a team usually playing catch-up to the rest of the NL West.

Does Tulo feel the Rockies make the necessary moves to build a contender?

"That's tough. We definitely have good enough players to win. At the same time, we're not the organization that's going to go out and sign the best free agent every year," Tulo told me in an earnest conversation. "I understood that when I signed here. I would love to play with great players.

"But you also have to realize what the organization is about. So sometimes you have to understand the business side of it, too."

Do you watch the other movers and shakers and wonder what that would be like?

"Oh, yeah. All the time," he said. "When you're a baseball fan, you look at certain teams and say, 'Oh, I'd enjoy playing with him. Or I'd enjoy playing with that team. It looks like a bunch of good dudes.' But I'm also happy here and love the guys I play with."

There are four games left in the Helton Era.

Then it should be Tulo Time, for real.

"I think with Todd leaving, this is the next chapter in my career. I have to take over," Tulo told me. "I think I got pushed into that role as a younger player. But Todd was still here. Next year will be a lot different. It will be a little weird without him at first base.

"It doesn't happen often that a guy is one place for 17 years. Hopefully one day I'll be in those same shoes. It's got to be an honor. It's special."

With 14 losing records in 21 seasons, the Rockies make it human nature to forget the special player at shortstop.

"Seventeen years goes by in a heartbeat," Helton said Tuesday.

Dear Rockies: Don't let Tulo's prime years go by. Not without putting up a fight.

-

Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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