Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Of Todd Helton and freedom

Ahhh, another spring, another baseball season. The Colorado Rockies are mired in last place and all is right with the world. Without a doubt Coors field has become the Siberia of Major League Baseball. And Todd Helton is baseball’s Andrei Sakharov.

The Rockies haven’t finished over .500 since 2000 and haven’t been within ten games of a playoff birth since ’96. All the while Todd Helton has racked up a gaudy .338 average, 252 HR’s, 845 RBI’s, a .613 slugging percentage, and has won three Gold Glove Awards. In ’04 Helton became just the third player ever to hit at least .315, 25 HR’s, and 95 RBI’s in seven consecutive years. The only others to ever accomplish this were Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. All this from Peyton Manning’s under study at Tennessee.

Now I realize the thin air of Coors Canaveral inflates batting numbers by up to ten percent but that doesn’t eliminate the fact that Helton has been the best 1B in the game for the last seven years. Even if you project his stats for sea-level type production he would still have a career .304 BA, 227 HR’s, and 761 RBI’s. Not to mention the three Gold Gloves.

Helton is also one of the classiest athletes in sports. The bogus steroid accusations aside, Helton has been gracious towards the fans and the media. He has a number of charitable causes and has won numerous humanitarian awards in both Colorado and his native Tennessee.

The five-time All Star is the corner stone of an otherwise floundering franchise. The Rockies have all the direction of a cork in a bath tub. What was once a proud team with one of the steadiest fan bases in the league has turned into one of the worst franchises in professional sports as its only bone fide star wallows away in the gulag that is Coors Field. It really is a shame that one of the top five ball parks in the majors now houses the Mile High version of the Bad News Bears. And one of the true ambassadors of the game is doing his penance in baseball’s Purgatory.

Such was the plight of Andrei Sakharov. The Soviet dissident was exiled in Gorky for seven years before he was allowed to travel freely throughout the former Soviet Union. In 1975 Sakharov won the Nobel Peace Prize for his untiring struggle for human rights in one of the most oppressive regimes in recorded history.

In this respect Helton and Sakharov are kindred spirits. Both were stuck in no win environments and both struggled for their cause. Sakharov fought for freedom. Helton fights for hits, wins, and hopefully that World Series ring he so richly deserves.