Rox stars step onto grand stage
Destiny calls veteran Helton; fans get to know rising Holliday
They are two faces of the same franchise, one a little furrowed, the other still as smooth as a baby's bottom. And they are both about to get their dues, starting Wednesday night, when the World Series spotlight will pierce the shadows under which they have excelled.The nation will get to appreciate Todd Helton, one of the past decade's truly great batsmen, while he still retains his impressive skills. And fans will be introduced to Matt Holliday, while he is still perfecting his. So regardless of the outcome between the Colorado Rockies and Boston Red Sox, this 2007 Fall Classic already is a very good thing. After 10 ironman seasons and 1,578 games at first base, Helton has finally found his deliverance, something that hauntingly avoided some of baseball's greats through the years. The big stage is certainly a deserving forum for someone who has hit .300-plus in every one of his seasons, and whose .332 lifetime average ranks No. 30 all-time. The ironic thing is, Helton apparently was destined to reach this stage -- on one side or the other. Buried under the carpet of the season is the dust of a pre-Spring Training deal that would have gone through had the Rockies considered Boston's Julian Tavarez and Mike Lowell as a sufficient package for Helton. The attempt to deal Helton away from Colorado was brief and intense, prompted by his desire to be on a winner and Rockies management's evaluation that his own contract may have worked against that objective being realized in Denver. So how ironic do Colorado vice chairman Richard Monfort's late-January words ring now? "It would be great," Monfort had said, "if we could win the division and go to the playoffs with Todd, and there's no reason to think that can't happen. He wants to be successful and we want to be successful, but those may not be mutually inclusive. At some point in time it may not work." Everyone held out hope ... and here we are. If there was one unifying theme to the Rockies' celebration of a National League pennant, it was this: They were all thrilled to have helped bring Helton to this place. "And carry me here they sure did," said Helton, adding that teammates' sentiments were "gratifying. It was nice to hear that. I hope it does feel right that I'm a part of this. "But I'll tell you what, in turn I'm happy for everyone in the organization, especially those teammates." Much of the credit is befalling Holliday, an MVP frontrunner after leading the league in both average (.340) and RBIs (137) while clubbing 36 homers. Hitting for average and in the clutch are historically so mutually exclusive, he is the first to lead the NL in those two departments ... since Helton, in 2000. It is safe to assume that the majority of fans who don't follow the game from a mile-high perspective weren't truly aware of Holliday until this season, maybe not until the final month of the season, when he drove the Rockies down their furious stretch as the NL's Player of the Month for September.
They might be surprised to learn that Holliday has been doing this for four steadily improving seasons. At 27, he has jacked up his numbers across the board year-to-year.His RBIs have gone from 57 to 87 to 114 to 137. Average? .290 to .307 to .326 to .340. Home runs? 14 to 19 to 34 to 36. Pick any other category, and you'll see the same chart. For six days in October, plus perhaps one day in November, the nation will see the smooth, explosive swing of an intense young man. Holliday is finding his first playoff experience draining and exhilarating at the same time. "Every out being so crucial is a bit exhausting," he said. "There are so many emotional ups and downs, with every pitch and every out meaning so much. At the same time, it's a lot of fun." Presumably, the fun part did not include an unusually long layoff from Championship Series to World Series that exposed the Rockies to daily media assaults. This is an obligation Helton and Holliday accept as team cover boys, but not enthusiastically. They both locker in the corner of the clubhouse closest to the refuge-offering players' lounge. They are both cordial and cooperative, but convey the impression they play this game to excel in the competition, not for the personal glory available by talking about yourself. With his dry wit, Helton even noted prior to a midweek workout that his normal routine by this time of the year would be to be off "hunting ducks ... or maybe reporters." Hirsute Helton and bald Holliday both revel in the unique brotherhood a baseball team fosters. Think about it: By the World Series' first pitch, these guys will have been together every day for eight months, since the early stages of Spring Training. That elevates group success above any individual feat. In retrospect, Rockies players unanimously finger as the fuse of their 21-1 run the ninth-inning, two-out, two-run homer by Helton off the Dodgers' Takashi Saito, turning an 8-7 loss into a 9-8 victory. The evidence supports their gut feeling: That home run, in the nightcap of a Sept. 18 doubleheader, delivered win No. 3 of the ongoing 21 of 22. Joining the chorus, Holliday said, "That one really stands out to me. That was a huge win for us." But Helton wants no part of it. "There are so many pitches, so many swings, so many hits that meant so much," he said, "you can't single out anything." Holliday riffed on the same tune in the immediate aftermath of being named the MVP of the NLCS, an award that virtually embarrassed him. "I just happened to get it, but this belongs to everyone in here," Holliday had said. "It's just a great feeling to be able to share [the championship] with guys you care about, not just as good baseball players, but as brothers. This is a special time, to be able to share something like this." You share it with your adopted family, and also your real family. Thus, Helton celebrated the NL pennant in the wet Coors Field clubhouse with his toddler daughter in his arms, just as he had a few days earlier when the Rockies had completed their Division Series sweep. "She now thinks," Helton said, "that after every game we come in here and pour champagne over each other's heads." If only she knew ... but after 1,578 dry games, Dad can pop some buttons along with the corks.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.