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Helton's No. 17 becomes permanent part of Coors Field

Longtime first baseman enjoying retirement with family

Helton's No. 17 becomes permanent part of Coors Field play video for Helton's No. 17 becomes permanent part of Coors Field

DENVER -- Tierny Faith Helton, 11 years old and stylish in a black dress and black high-tops, stepped to the microphone in front of the pitcher's mound at Coors Field, and asked a question that drew an affirmative applause from a large Sunday afternoon crowd at Coors Field.

"My dad has been a Colorado Rockie my entire life," Tierny Faith said. "This stadium has been my second home. Thank you for that. Now that my daddy has been home with us this season -- a lot -- I want to ask you one question: Do you want him back?

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"Just kidding. I love you, Daddy. We are so proud of you."

Actually, Coors Field and Denver and the Rockies already have Todd Helton -- forever.

Sunday's ceremony -- held appropriately on Aug. 17 -- celebrated the retirement of Helton's No. 17, which he wore, appropriately, for 17 seasons (1997-2013). The number was carved into the center-field grass, painted in foul ground behind first base, and stamped on the bases and the baseballs for the four-game weekend series with the Reds.

After speeches from former teammates Brad Hawpe and Matt Belisle, the display was unveiled -- on the facing of the second deck, above the visiting bullpen in right-center. It was certainly an appropriate spot. Many of his 369 career home runs were caught in the jet stream at Coors and cleared the wall in right-center.

"I am proud to say that I am a Colorado Rockie for life," Helton said during a heartfelt speech in front of the fans.

The weather was quite cooperative. There were light sprinkles, but the sky was sunny throughout the ceremony. Rain didn't fall until after Helton and his family had walked off the field, and it came in buckets with two outs in the bottom of the first inning of the Reds-Rockies game. The game was delayed 21 minutes.

Earlier, Helton, three days shy of his 41st birthday, answered questions at a news conference. He spoke of enjoying time at home with his wife, Christy, and daughters Tierney Faith and Gentry Grace. He was coach of Tierney's softball team this spring, and will move on to coaching soccer. He has taken time for outdoor activities on his ranch, had Colorado days of skiing in the morning and golf in the afternoon.

His early retirement is full.

"I'm waiting," Helton said when asked about truly missing the game. "I just change the channel and Shark Week is on, so I go about my business."

But that's the dry humor that those close to the team saw for 17 years.

Belisle told the crowd, "When he was vocal, you could pretty much count on there being wit, sarcasm or extremely dry humor," Belisle said. "This guy could make any situation awkward, by design, at will, for his personal satisfaction."

It happened to Hawpe, who came to the Rockies after a strong collegiate career at LSU as a first baseman. He ended up a right fielder.

"My first day of big league camp, I was terribly hurt," Hawpe said. "I was a first baseman and started taking ground balls with Todd Helton. After a while he looked at me and said, 'You look good over here at first. I hear you can hit a little.' "I looked over, and he was staring a hole right through me. He said, 'You'd better find a new position.'"

When he wasn't joking, he was competing.

"You know what?" Helton said. "I miss the at-bat, I miss that one-on-one competition with the pitcher. You can't find that anywhere else playing the game at the highest level -- or any sport at the highest level -- once you stop doing that. There's going to be a void in your life that you'll never be able to replace."

In future years, a juicy question is whether Helton will have a presence beyond the number on the facing of the second deck in right-center.

John Elway returned to the Broncos as team president, and last season the team went to the Super Bowl for the first time since he wore No. 7. The Colorado Avalance have a promising future with Stanley Cup superstars Joe Sakic as general manager, Patrick Roy as head coach and Adam Foote as defensive consultant.

In recent years, the Rockies have tabbed some of their former players, from manager Walt Weiss to first-base coach Eric Young. Vinny Castilla works in a front-office advisory role the way Weiss did several years back. Ellis Burks and Pedro Astacio are special instructors. Larry Walker, a player almost as decorated as Helton, served as a special instructor during Spring Training.

But noting that others who are back in the game had taken time off after their careers, Helton said he was going to give himself a year before making any life decisions.

If the time comes, Helton has no idea if he would pursue a future in an on-field capacity or in the front office.

"That's the beauty of it, I can do whatever I feel like," he said. "I could go to Alaska, build a log hut and catch trout and cook 'em. I might do that. It's either that or coaching."

Not to be underrated, Helton feels good. That certainly wasn't the case during the latter part of his career, when chronic back problems, plus other aches and pains, limited his effectiveness and kept him in nearly constant discomfort.

"Having this long break, this rest of my life break, I've recovered well," he said. "It feels good to play 17 years in a major sport and be able to walk away and play golf and do the things I still want to do."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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