A condensed version of Dan Patrick's interview with Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton appears in the August 6 edition of ESPN The Magazine.
DP: Are you ready for this?
|Todd Helton flirted with .400 for much of last season, finishing at .372.|
DP: Are you sure?
TH: Yes. I've got Papa John's pizza sitting right here, dude.
TH: Let's do this. Just don't jinx me again.
DP: Jinx you? You had one of the greatest seasons in the last 30 years: 200 hits, 40 homers, 100 RBI, 100 runs, 100 extra base hits, 100 walks [editor's note: make that 64 years; the last player to come close was Hank Greenberg in 1937].
TH: I just like to hear you say it, buddy.
DP: Of all those numbers, what are you the proudest of?
TH: Oh, I don't know -- probably my average.
DP: See, I didn't even mention that.
TH: Yes, that's probably because it's so hard just to grind day in and day out.
DP: What about the 59 doubles?
TH: I kind of wish I'd have had 60. You get that close, 59, come on.
DP: See, I figured you'd try to be greedy and stretch a single into a double.
TH: You know what? I hit a home run, and I was just going to miss third and go home. I hit a couple of home runs there. I was going to just skip third, but I figured that would be a little obvious.
DP: What is the disadvantage of playing at Coors?
TH: Mental strain.
DP: The rain?
TH: Dude. Mental strain. After a game, sometimes I'm thinking, "Man, I didn't even get a hit today. I didn't get on base." But that's when I worry too much about winning. It takes a toll, riding that mental roller coaster.
DP: Is there a secret advantage, maybe a subtle advantage that we don't know about? Obviously the air. The ball carries there. But is there something else that we don't know?
TH: I don't think so. I think the biggest advantage hitters have here is pitchers being scared. They don't pitch like they usually do.
DP: Is it something visible? Let's say a big-name pitcher goes out there. Curt Schilling goes to the mound at Coors. Does he look different than he would, say, pitching in Arizona?
DP: You can't see it in their eyes.
TH: No, but a lot of times you know just by the pitches they throw you in certain situations that it's different than when they're at home.
DP: We had a poll question earlier in the season: Who would hit more home runs this year, Mike Hampton or Ichiro Suzuki? Do you want to weigh in on that?
TH: I'll go with Hampton.
DP: How many do you think he's going to hit this year?
TH: Maybe one more.
DP: Because the major-league record [for pitchers] is nine; the NL record is seven.
TH: You know what, he's got some pop. I mean, when he connects he goes a long ways.
DP: Yes, he's powerful. Give me a hitter who is like Hampton.
TH: Oh, wow. I'm trying to think of a midget with pop.
DP: Jeff Bagwell?
TH: No. He's a little bit better than Hampton.
DP: Oh, I see. You can make fun of Hampton, but you won't make fun of Bagwell.
TH: No chance.
DP: So a midget with pop.
DP: Do you have one?
TH: I was thinking, like, Glen Hubbard or somebody like that.
DP: Glen Hubbard. Oh, somebody who's not in the game. You're so politically correct.
TH: Yes, sorry about that.
DP: Is Larry Walker your idol?
TH: He's my friend.
DP: Well, you can still be friendly with your idol, can't you?
DP: You don't look at him and say, "That's the kind of ballplayer I want to be"?
TH: That's a loaded question.
TH: That's a loaded question.
DP: Well, you can say, no, I can't be that way. I'm not fast like him and I don't have an arm like him, but I'd like to be the hitter that he is.
TH: I'm just fine with the hitter that I am. I mean, I'm not even close to the ballplayer he is.
DP: Is he a good mailman? Isn't he the team mailman? And what's that about, by the way?
TH: He just sorts mail. Puts it in the little boxes. He's pretty good. Some days he slacks off and I have to get on him a little bit.
DP: Is that a coveted job?
TH: No, I don't even know why he does it.
DP: I mean, it sounds it's painful -- like, that's what you give to a rookie.
TH: Exactly. I have no idea. I don't know.
DP: I think you take advantage of him because he's Canadian.
TH: It's pretty easy to do that, yes.
DP: What's the biggest difference between baseball players and football players?
TH: There's not a lot of similarities there.
DP: At all?
DP: Are baseball players more thin-skinned than football players?
TH: Thin-skinned ... I would say so. I'd say a lot of it has to with being superstitious ... but I think baseball players think a lot more than football players do.
DP: Plus you play 162 games, which means far more opportunity to criticize you.
DP: Whereas if you play 14 or 16 games, you may actually have eight good games in there where we can't criticize you.
TH: Yes ... just from the personalities of football players and baseball players, it's not even close. Baseball players are goofs. I mean, their head's in the stands checking out some broad up there and then they go up and hit a home run. Whereas in football, you're focused -- tunnel vision the whole game and stuff like that.
DP: You never noticed a woman when you were playing football at Tennessee, is what you're saying [Helton was a QB for the Vols].
TH: Well, I was on the sidelines the whole time, plus I was in college.
DP: Oh, so you did notice the women?
TH: Yes. Well, I wasn't playing.
DP: Maybe that's why you weren't playing. Did you ever think of that?
TH: Yes. I was happy on that sideline too, baby. That's the only time I looked good.
DP: When people say, give me your Peyton Manning story, you already have your Peyton Manning story down, don't you?
DP: You have to be asked this all the time, so I would think you would be on automatic pilot and you just push a button in your head and say, OK, yes, that's the Payton Manning story I always tell.
TH: Yes, I guess the one where he, you know, he first came [to Tennessee] in his freshman year and he's all giddy, and that's when I had already went in there and sucked for a little while, so they threw him in there. He comes running in there and gives a little pep talk -- and he about got strangled by the offensive linemen who'd been out there all game.
DP: He just told me that story. He went in there and basically said I'm in charge here and I'm going to lead us down the field.
TH: Yes, and he about got choked.
DP: And one of your offensive linemen said, shut the blank up and just call the play.
DP: Three pitchers you don't want to see.
|In his fourth full season with the Rockies, Todd Helton has 140 career HRs (and counting) and a .332 career average.|
TH: Randy Johnson, Shawn Estes and Omar Daal.
DP: So all left-handers.
TH: Well, yes.
DP: You have no problems with any right-handers.
TH: Well, you could throw Robb Nen in there. Even though I have made contact off of him now.
DP: You fouled one off?
TH: No, no, no. I nicked one last year. I hit a ground ball.
DP: So the left-handers -- would you beg out of the lineup? Do you understand when left-handed hitters say, you know what, Randy's coming to town and I just don't feel that well.
DP: You'd never beg out.
TH: I'd never beg out.
DP: You haven't begged out.
TH: Never. I'm not the manager; I don't make those decisions. That's what they pay him for. I play every day -- I come to play every day.
DP: Oh, listen to that. You've been listening to too many postgame press conferences. "I come to play every day." Is your back against the wall right now?
TH: Yes, baby.
DP: Best Todd in baseball.
TH: Wow, that's a hard one.
DP: You've got Todd Hollandsworth, you've got Todd Walker, plus you.
TH: I would go with Hollandsworth when he's healthy.
DP: Hollandsworth is better than you?
DP: That's just total BS ... you don't think Todd Hollandsworth is better than you.
TH: Well, I'm not going to throw myself in that mix.
DP: All right, that's fine.
TH: Man, I'm not going to sit on the air here and -- you know, I've got a phrase but I can't use it on the air.
DP: Are you a rival with Florida or Alabama still? I mean, is it still ingrained in your blood when you go to Tennessee?
DP: You put that to rest when you left Tennessee? You don't hate the Florida Gators or Crimson Tide?
TH: No. I want Tennessee to win when they play them, but I'm not like, you know, hate Alabama or hate somebody because they played at Alabama or anything like that. It's just not the way I am. I'm a little more laid back than that.
DP: On game day, if you get complete control of locker-room music, what are we hearing?
TH: You know, we've been going with some techno lately, when Denny Neagle pitches. He puts techno on because he's a freak. It gets him pumped up.
DP: But what about you?
TH: You know, I've got a new song that I go back in the weight room and turn on. It's by Stained ... do you know which one I'm talking about?
DP: No, but I know the new CD. I don't have it yet but it got great reviews.
DP: Favorite cartoon character growing up.
TH: You know, my favorite was Spider-Man.
DP: Did you dress up like Spider-Man?
TH: I had the underoos. Loved the underoos. Yes. I mean, Mom would take me to the grocery store just in Spider-Man underoos.
DP: That's a good visual.
DP: A scary visual but a good visual.
DP: Funniest teammate.
TH: Neagle, no doubt.
DP: Is it the sound effects that Neagle gives you that makes him funniest?
TH: You know, it's the funniest thing, I think he does the best Chris Farley, the van down by the river routine.
TH: Oh, he's got it. He's got every one. I mean, Tommy Boy -- he can go, like, whole scenes of movies. Whole down by the river skits and that stuff.
DP: See, I've got to get Neagle on again. I think he's avoiding Dibble and myself because we, you know, we thought he was going to give up a few home runs at Coors Field.
TH: You don't ever give him any credit.
DP: I've given him credit. I gave Hampton credit.
TH: Yes, well, we're not talking about Hampton.
DP: Well, there were two new pitchers there at Coors Field. I just thought Neagle would give up the gopher ball a bit more readily than Hampton would. Hampton's a sinkerball pitcher. That's all. Hey, if I'm wrong, I'll admit it, but I'm not afraid to tell Denny Neagle that I'm wrong.
TH: No, I would have said the same thing. But I'm saying when he doesn't [give up homers], you all don't give him credit. That's my opinion.
DP: All right. See, once again you guys are too sensitive.
TH: There you go.
DP: Do you like your baseball-card picture?
TH: I've got some bad baseball cards. I've got a few chins and they show up on the baseball cards every once in awhile.
DP: Which teammate has the worst baseball card?
TH: Cirillo. If you put a microscope up to his baseball cards, you could see his nose hair coming out.
DP: Now, see, he's the most sensitive guy you've got on the team. He's going to freak when he hears this.
TH: Yes. Please don't let him know that I said that.
DP: Best postgame buffet. What city?
TH: Oh, it's definitely not San Fran. It's definitely not L.A. I'm going to go with Hotlanta because they throw some country cooking out there for you. Southern cooking.
DP: Oh, so they'll throw in some fried chicken.
TH: Some meat loaf, some veggies, mashed potatoes, gravy. And anyplace that has biscuits and gravy for breakfast, that's the best.
DP: Do you like the new schedule, where you guys tend to beat each other up in the division? Is it too much of a good thing that you're facing each other all the time?
TH: Everybody in our division's pretty tough, so it kind of sucks in the sense of the wild card because I don't think it's going to come out of our division. Plus, there's a lot of good pitching in our division, so we're facing some tough pitching day in and day out, and that makes it tough too.
DP: Yes, there's far more pitching in that division than that division is given credit for. Even the Padres have some good young arms.
DP: Are you still the player rep?
DP: Were you the player rep as a rookie?
DP: Oh, so that must be, hey, nobody else wants this -- give it to the rookie.
TH: Kind of.
DP: Because you didn't volunteer.
TH: No, I didn't volunteer ... well, I kind of. I mean, they said, do you want to do it? They said, you're going to be around here awhile. I said I'll do it.
DP: Are you prepared for the potential work stoppage?
TH: I guess I'm prepared. I hope it doesn't happen.
DP: You think it's a possibility?
TH: It's always a possibility, but I don't think because of the players. I think it'll be because of, you know, the owners want to change.
DP: How has your life changed since the new contract?
TH: I don't think it has.
DP: Are you finding more people want to call you and say hello that maybe haven't called you in five or 10 years?
TH: No, it hasn't been that bad.
DP: But you do hear from some people...
DP: "Hey, Todd, remember me? I did this for you..."
TH: Yes, you get that.
DP: Did you hear about the bet Dibble and I have?
TH: What is it?
DP: Ichiro bats .300, Dibble runs around Times Square in his Speedo.
TH: Ichiro's going to bat .300.
DP: I know ... and if Ichiro happens to win the batting title, Dibbs runs around naked in Times Square.
TH: Ooh ... what do you do if Ichiro doesn't hit .300?
DP: I didn't say anything about it. But I said about Ichiro, I said this guy can play and will be a star. So Dibble's the one who said, no, he won't, because he faced Japanese pitching and he's not going to be that good -- he won't even bat .300.
DP: So I'm on Ichiro's side.
TH: Well, the guy can run too. So he's going to hit .300.
DP: Dibble says, he went 2-for-4 last night, but those hits combined are about 90 feet.
TH: Yes, but it's still a base hit, baby.
DP: It doesn't matter.
TH: Yes. Check the box scores.
DP: What is the unwritten rule in baseball that bothers you?
TH: You know what I read in the paper, that you're not supposed to swing 3-and-0 if your team's winning -- that bothers me. I didn't even know that was an unwritten rule.
DP: At Coors Field you have to swing because even an 11-run lead isn't safe there.
TH: Come on.
DP: Oh, that's right. That was the old pitching staff. Now you have a new pitching staff. It's a little bit different. So the 3-0, that's an unwritten rule that you say, wait a minute, I object.
TH: I'll tell you what, if I'm up there 3-and-0 and I'm feeling good at the plate and the manager lets me swing 3-and-0, I'm swinging. I'm trying to get a hit.
DP: But don't you think you're going to get drilled? Imagine you're up there against Clemens and it's 3-0 and you're up five runs, sixth inning.
TH: Well, we've done something. If we were up five runs on Roger Clemens?
DP: Yes, you're right. But let's say you're up on someone like that and you swing, you go for the downs on 3-0 -- where's the next pitch going to be?
TH: That's up to him.
DP: But you know where it's going.
TH: I don't care.
DP: Oh, you don't?
DP: Well, I would. Clemens is going to buzz the tower? I'd be a little concerned.
TH: It happens -- it's part of the game.
DP: Oh, there you go. "It's part of the game." See, that's my favorite. Dibble always gives me that.
TH: If he wants to throw at me, he can throw at me.
DP: All right.
TH: I don't want to get into that because I've got some opinions about that.
DP: You know, this is what bothers me -- the guy who gets hit after the guy who hit the home run.
TH: Yes, he didn't do nothing, did he.
DP: Explain that to me.
TH: I don't know -- should wait and drill him when he gets back up.
DP: But the problem is, these pitchers usually aren't in the game by then ... I feel bad for some guy who has to stand in there after Mark McGwire's homered. You know, Albert Pujols or somebody is just going to get plunked; he's like, what did I do?
TH: They don't do that that much anymore, though.
DP: The old-school guys do.
DP: Did you have a favorite in the Lakers-76ers series, by the way?
TH: No, I couldn't care less.
DP: You don't like basketball?
DP: At all?
DP: So you're a two-sport star, but you only care about football and baseball.
TH: Yes ... I won't watch basketball.
DP: Has the new strike zone affected you at all?
TH: No, I swing at everything.
DP: That's what I love.
TH: All right, dude, my pizza's getting cold here...