Plenty has changed for Helton in retirement
After 16 straight Opening Day starts with Rockies, first baseman enjoying time away
DENVER -- For 16 years, during several last-place seasons and a 2007 trip to the World Series, there was one Opening Day constant with the Colorado Rockies -- Todd Helton at first base.
Emphasis on the past tense.
Helton retired at the end of last season, saying it was time for him to get on with his life, spend more time with his family and enjoy things that over the years he has had to miss out on because of his athletic efforts.
He is a man of his word.
The Rockies, having lost three of four in Miami to open the season, welcome the Arizona Diamondbacks to Coors Field for their home opener on Friday afternoon.
For the first time in 17 years, he won't be wearing No. 17 and in the lineup. No, Helton, his wife and two daughters will be following the Rockies from afar.
"We'll be up at the ranch, just enjoying the day," he said of the spread he owns in Northern Colorado. "I'll have the game on, for sure. I've got a lot of friends on the team and I wish them all the best."
Helton, however, knows he is no longer part of the Rockies' present or future.
He is a part of the past, a part important enough that his No. 17 will be the first number retired in franchise history on Aug. 17, the finale in a weekend that will be dedicated to celebrating his career in which he set franchise records for virtually every offensive record, including 369 home runs, 1,406 RBIs and 2,247 games played.
He was the Rockies' first-round Draft pick out of the University of Tennessee in 1995, and in August 1997, he made his big league debut, playing primary left field the last two months of that season. He moved into the first-base role the next spring, taking over for Andres Galarraga, who had been the Rockies' first baseman in their first five years of existence.
That, however, is part of the past.
Justin Morneau was signed on the free-agent market in the offseason to fill the first-base vacancy for the Rockies.
And Helton is moving on, the best way he knows how -- by keeping his distance.
"I'm not a player anymore," he said. "I want to separate myself a little bit."
At some point, Helton most likely will assume a non-playing role with the Rockies. The native of Knoxville is, after all, continuing to live in the Denver area. He is, however, not ready for the transition right now.
That's why he declined an invitation to spend some time in Scottsdale, Ariz., during Spring Training.
"It got a little weird when the season started," said Helton. "I've played baseball since I can remember, and suddenly the game was being played and I wasn't one of the guys playing. … I'm sure it's going to be weird on Friday, too."
That, however, is part of retirement. It's about moving on in life. It's about new experiences, like having family time while the Major League season is being played.
"Christy," Helton said of his wife, "says I used to go into a submarine once the season started. I was isolated from everything else."
Not now, though.
Helton has been hunting, like always. He went to the Super Bowl as a guest of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who replaced Helton as the quarterback at the University of Tennessee.
But that's not all.
"I skied, rode horses, play golf, [coached daughter Tierney Faith's] basketball team," he said. "I had a lot of kid time. It was fun. I went skiing and played golf the same day in Vail. I always wanted to do that."
It was different. As a professional baseball player, skiing and horseback riding were on his no-can-do list.
"I had been skiing once," he said. "When I was a freshman in college, a friend of mine and I went to Lake Tahoe."
The macho athlete in Helton won out when he hit the slopes this time around. He declined the suggestion of lessons.
"I got lessons for the kids," he said. "It wouldn't have hurt me to get a couple lessons, too. I'm not very good. But I did have a good time."
He did get some horseback lessons, though. Binion Cervi, one of the top rodeo stock contractors in world and a close friend of Helton, hooked Helton up with Stormy Mullins, event coordinator for the Georgetown, Texas, Mustang Heritage Foundation.
Cervi told Helton that Mullins "is one of the best horse trainers in the country," and after working with Mullins, Helton endorses that recommendation.
"I was always uncomfortable on a horse, but I went down and worked with Stormy, and he really helped me understand what riding horses was about," said Helton. "It's something new I am getting to experience. Things change."
They have for Helton.
And they have for the Rockies, as well.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.