Out of the Park

For the first time in too long, Colorado Rockies fans can stand proud. And once more, Todd Helton is the reason.

For fans of a team that just endured a franchise-record 103 losses, Helton’s election brought sunshine in winter. Suddenly, memories of better times could come back to life. Granted, we’ve never had the equivalent of the 1927 Yankees (or even the 1987 Twins) but there’s still been plenty to light up a mental scoreboard. The early days watching Andres “The Big Cat” Galarraga. Larry Walker’s pursuit of a .400 batting average. And of course, the miracle of Rocktober before it wilted in the glare of a Fenway Park evening.

And in the midst of so much of it stood The Toddfather. The face of the Rockies for 17 years. Feared at the bat, cheered in the lineup, jeered for being the beneficiary of Coors Field.

Oh, wait. That last bit came from the commentators. For way too long. The same ones who’ve gotten very quiet all of a sudden.

If Helton’s election does nothing else, it’ll hopefully shatter the myth that Rockies hitters are Fake News. And not just because Mister Rockie had road warrior stats that were right up there with George Brett, Ricky Henderson and Tony Gwynn.

Rather, he did what every star does in any field. He took what he was given and he ran with it.

Yes, Coors Field is a batter’s paradise. I said it. I’d be foolish to deny it. Even in the Humidor Era with baseballs specially treated to handle the thin air, hitters come to the plate eagerly and often leave satisfied. The overall effect has sometimes been exaggerated (the way some sportscasters describe it, you’d think the Rockies played on the Moon) but it’s real.

But still – so what?

I’ll say it again for those in the back row. So what?

Baseball is not played under sterile laboratory conditions.  Far from it. Every player faces a unique environment, whether it’s the quirks of the local ballpark or the latest brainstorm rules-change from the commissioner’s office.  And yet, somehow, we still cheer excellence.

Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale didn’t have to apologize for the pitcher-friendly confines of Dodger Stadium. Ted Williams and Wade Boggs didn’t have to give back their Hall of Fame status for playing half their games in the bandbox of Fenway. And any hitter that benefits from a “live” ball, a lower pitcher’s mound or even something as simple as batting gloves has an edge on those who came before.

So what’s the big deal about a Rocky Mountain High?

It’s a truth that goes beyond the ballpark. Everyone’s starting from different points, working with different gifts, facing different journeys and challenges. But if we let our preconceptions discount a real accomplishment, then we’ve sold someone short. Maybe even ourselves.

I’m not saying that differences never make a difference. When someone outright rigs the game, on the field or off, attention needs to be paid. When someone’s “excellence” comes at another’s expense, the harm shouldn’t be ignored.

 But there’s a difference between that and using what you have, where you are. And when that effort produces something worthy, by all means, celebrate it.

There have been many Colorado Rockies ballplayers. There has been one Todd Helton. And the Hall has shown that it can finally look past Coors and give him the honor he deserves.  

Never mind the losses for now. Today, we’re all feeling a mile high.

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