DENVER — The Colorado Rockies started play in 1993. Todd Helton showed up in 1997 and never left. He’s the best player in franchise history and there’s no debate about it.
Helton has played the most games, had the most hits and played in front of millions of people at Coors Field for 17 seasons. That he’s a borderline Hall of Famer doesn’t much matter to the folks out here because he’s their guy.
Helton didn’t make a big deal about retiring. He told Denver Post beat guy Troy Renck earlier this month and that was that. Wednesday was his final game at Coors and the Red Sox happened to be the opponent.
That Jake Peavy was pitching was appropriate. Peavy and Helton had faced each other 51 times over the years and were old adversaries. They don’t know each other particularly well, but there’s mutual respect.
Helton homered in his first plate appearance on Tuesday, giving the crowd of 48,775 a thrill. He added a sacrifice fly in the third inning and nearly another homer in the fifth, lining a double off the fence in left.
Because the Red Sox won the game 15-5, Peavy was fine with that.
“It was a fun atmosphere,” he said. “I thought the tribute to Helton was outstanding. They nailed it. Todd’s a tremendous, tremendous competitor. Tremendous person, the little bit I do know. Congratulations on a wonderful, wonderful career. It was fun getting to compete against him tonight.”
The Rockies had a low-key ceremony for Helton that hit the right notes.
After a highlight video, Helton was introduced to the crowd and tipped his cap to all corners of Coors Field before catching a first pitch thrown by one of his daughters, Tierney Faith.
The Rockies then presented Helton with a horse for his ranch. It was not just any horse, it was a champion American Paint Horse.
Helton took the lineup card out to home plate. When the Rockies ran out on the field, they held back and Helton went to first base alone. That merited another cheer from the crowd.
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, Helton’s football teammate at the University of Tennessee and a close friend, was at the game. Manning and other teammates over the years filmed videos that were shown throughout the night.
In the final innings, Helton’s family came out on the field and were given first base.
When the game ended, Helton took a lap around the field to wave at the fans one last time. Many of the Red Sox players stayed in their dugout, applauding Helton. Sox hitting coach Greg Colbrunn, who played with Helton, was there, too.
Peavy, up in the clubhouse, came running down and gave Helton a hug. That he was in his baseball underwear and a t-shirt didn’t matter.
“I just wanted him to know how much I appreciate the way he went about things,” Peavy said. “Me and Todd have had many, many matchups like we did tonight. I’m not not going to miss him in retirement on the baseball field.
“To play 17 years and to play the game as hard as he played it, to be the leader that he has been to these guys … just the class that he always competed with, the respect that he always showed and voiced, I wanted him to know I appreciated that.”
Helton was moved by what Peavy and the Red Sox did.
“That was ultimate class. What a class act. I’ll never forget that,” he said.
A few other Red Sox notes:
• The Sox have five grand slams this month (tying a major league record for September) and nine on the season, the most in the majors. Will Middlebrooks has had two slams this season. He has eight home runs and 24 RBIs in 38 games since returning from Triple A Pawtucket.
• The Sox finished 14-6 in interleague games, their best record since the 2006 team was 16-2. They outscored the National League teams 118-54.
• David Ortiz was 1 for 3 with two RBIs. He has 100 RBIs for the first time since 2010 and the seventh time his career. Only Hall of Famers Ted Williams (nine) and Jim Rice (eight) have had more 100-RBI seasons for the Sox.
• Jarrod Saltalamacchia was 4 for 5 with three RBIs. He’s at .272/.338/.465 on the season with 39 doubles, 14 homers and 64 RBIs. He has set himself up well for free agency.