Updated: September 26, 2013 at 8:39 am
Fans of Todd Helton and the Colorado Rockies had one final chance to show their appreciation for the best player in the team's 20-year history, and they came through loud and clear.
When Todd Helton stepped to the plate in the second inning Wednesday night, a packed house serenaded him with a standing ovation and cheers. Helton gave his fans one more moment to cheer for as he belted a 1-1 cut-fastball deep into the right field seats, circling the bases for the 369th time in his career.
Upon reaching home plate, Helton tipped his cap and headed back to the dugout. That wasn't good enough for the fans. They continued cheering until Helton emerged from the dugout for a curtain call.
Helton wound up 2 for 3 with a double and three RBIs in a 15-5 defeat.
Fans came out to Coors Field in droves and many donned No. 17 Rockies jerseys to show their appreciation for the first legend in the 20-year history of Major League Baseball in Colorado.
"There was no way I wasn't going to his final home game." said Andrew Downing, a 24-year-old from Westminster as he stood on the concourse above the Rockies dugout an hour before the first pitch, wearing a Helton replica jersey. "Helton showed his loyalty when he decided to stay in Colorado when he had the chance to leave. I have made a point to buy tickets for the last game, just in case."
The Rockies held a pregame ceremony in honor of their first baseman's last home game. The video board featured stirring tributes with highlights of baby-faced Helton accomplishing unheard-of feats in the early days of his career. It concluded with footage of Helton lifting his arms and shouting for joy after recording the final out of the 2007 National League Championship Series. When the montage was finished, the Rockies presented Helton with a gelding horse, a gift for him to enjoy with his family at their ranch near Greeley.
The Coors Field faithful rose and gave Helton a standing ovation that lasted well over a minute. When the cheers started to die down, another wave of whistles and cheers rose again. Helton's eldest daughter, Tierney, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to her father. . The fans, still on their feet, gave Helton yet another ovation.
Between every inning, the video board featured highlights from Helton's 17 years in Colorado. It included tributes from current and past teammates, such as Clint Barmes, Dante Bichette, Jason Giambi, Dexter Fowler, Troy Tulowitzki and Michael Cuddyer.
"We've known him since he got here 17 years ago," said Dale Powers of Evergreen. "I wanted to show my support after all of the good memories that he provided us fans."
Helton endeared himself to fans not only with his sweet left-handed swing and his ability to drive nearly any pitch, from any pitcher, into the left-center gap. Longtime Rockies fans will forever remember frustrated pitchers shaking off their catcher as they tried to fool Helton, only to see him foul pitch after pitch into the stands before finally drilling a double into the gap.
In the day of free agency, it is rare to see a player wear the same uniform for 17 years. Helton chose to stay in Colorado when he could have easily demanded that the Rockies send him somewhere to give him a chance to contend every year. Instead, he remained loyal to the franchise and the fans.
Helton, not known for his emotions, acknowledged the fan support over his final homestand. "I hear the applause, Helton said. "I stepped out a couple of times and realized that they are still standing a couple of pitches in."
The night concluded Helton's illustrious career at Coors Field. Helton holds the club record for nearly every offensive category. His accomplishments include three Gold Gloves, five All-Star appearances, and offensive statistics that put him in with the likes of Stan Musial, Joe Morgan, Ralph Kiner, Roberto Clemente, Ted Williams and many others that have their faces on bronze busts in Cooperstown.
The Rockies franchise will have more great players, but it will be tough to match the impact that Todd Helton has had on the club, and a region of baseball fans.