Todd Helton is jealous.
From his home in Knoxville, Tenn., No. 17 keeps close tabs on the Rockies. He reads about them, checks box scores daily, watches games whenever he can, and checks out highlights on MLB Network.
There's been a lot to celebrate.
The Rockies, in first place in the National League West, entered a weekend series against the Cardinals with a 31-18 record, legitimized by a 7-3 record on their just-completed 10-game road trip
"I'm impressed," Helton said by phone after finishing a round of golf with some friends in Florida. "I knew Buddy Black was a great hire as manager, but I didn't know how good those young pitchers were. That (Antonio) Senzatela kid, from what I have seen, is absolutely dirty. And anytime you have a great closer it makes things a lot easier. And they do have a good one."
The closer is right-hander Greg Holland, the former Kansas City all-star with an electric fastball and diabolic slider, who has begun his Colorado career by converting 19 saves in 19 opportunities and posting a 0.96 ERA and an 0.80 WHIP.
Helton, 43, certainly had his share of glory days in 17 seasons with the Rockies. They rode Rocktober to the 2007 World Series and made the playoffs in 2009. Helton was voted to five all-star teams and there's even a burger shack in his name on the left-field concourse at Coors Field. He leads the franchise with 2,247 games played and holds club records for hits (2,519), home runs (369), doubles (592), walks (1,335), runs scored (1,401) and RBIs (1,406). His No. 17 jersey was retired in 2014.
He had a great career and should be enshrined in Cooperstown, in my opinion.
Yet for all of his grand history, Helton wouldn't mind turning back the clock for a season or two.
"I'm a little jealous," he said with a chuckle, "Yep, a little jealous. I wish we'd had some of those (pitchers) when I was playing."
Helton played his final game Sept. 29, 2013 at Dodger Stadium. It was an emotional day and Helton was, understandably, a little edgy. I clearly remember Nolan Arenado, a 22-year-old rookie at the time, following Helton around the clubhouse that day. Arenado was like a puppy at Helton's feet and drove the veteran a little bit crazy.
Now, nearly four years later, Arenado has replaced Helton as the face of the franchise. When they were teammates, Helton saw Arenado's potential, but he admits he didn't know the third baseman would become one of the best players in baseball.
"It's hard to predict anybody ever being that good," Helton said. "I didn't see the power. I never thought he would be hitting as many home runs as he's hitting. But I did know that he would drive balls into the gaps and drive in runs. But he's really blossomed. He can drive the ball out of the ballpark, and man is he fun to watch on defense."
Is Arenado the best defensive third baseman he's ever seen?
"Yes," Helton said without hesitation. "He makes the routine plays 100 percent of the time and he's an acrobat over there. His lateral range is unbelievable. He looks like a shortstop on balls to his right. He's got it all. There might be guys with more raw talent, but there are certain guys that just want to be great. Nolan's one of those guys."
Helton's also been wowed by Charlie Blackmon, the center fielder who evolved into the Rockies' starting center fielder during Helton's final season.
"Charlie, hitting leadoff, is doing what Charlie Blackmon does," Helton said. "He's driving the ball out of the ballpark. He looks good up there. That's a tough lineup. Nobody wants to face them."
These days, Helton and his wife, Christy, are busy raising their daughters, Tierney Faith and Gentry Grace. Helton also helps the University of Tennessee baseball team as the director of player development.
"It's a title that gets me around the kids so I can help out and give my two cents," he said.
Last week, Helton's alma mater announced that coach Dave Serrano would resign at the end of the season. The Volunteers' finished 27-25 overall, 7-21 in SEC play.
"It was a tough season, we didn't play well at all," Helton said. "Hopefully I will be more involved this coming year. It depends on who the new coach is."
Helton still owns his 4,000-acre ranch near Kersey, on the banks of the South Platte River, a place he once joked was "a little redneck heaven." He speaks with Rockies owner Dick Monfort "every once in a while."
Asked if he remains closely connected with his former team, Helton said: "Not really. But I live a long ways from Denver now. Hopefully I will come watch them play when I come back into town. It's a fun team to watch, that's for sure."
What's up: The disappointing Mariners make an interleague visit to Coors Field to face the Rockies on Monday and Tuesday before the teams head to Seattle for games on Wednesday and Thursday. Seattle entered the weekend in last place in the American League West with a 21-27 record. The Mariners snapped a five-game losing streak on Thursday when Cruz blasted a go-ahead, three-run homer off reliever Jacob Turner to beat Washington 4-2. The home run was Cruz's 12th of the season and gave him 40 RBIs, the most in the AL.
Background: Cruz hasn't been the problem in the great Northwest, where there is a feeling that the Mariners are underachieving. Their five-game losing streak, in which they managed to score just one run in each game, led manager Scott Servais to question his team's commitment. “We've got to pick up our intensity,” Servais told The Seattle Times. “We are better than this. I've about had enough of this. We need to dial it up a little bit.” Cruz responded with his home run the next day.
Saunders' take: The Mariners are at a crossroads and if they don't turn things around quickly, major trades could go down in late July. Cruz would be a possible target for a contender in need of a slugger. Cruz, 36, has one year left on his contract and will earn $14.25 million in 2018. That could be a manageable number for a contending team. Yes, he's nearing the end of his career, but he's proven power hitter, mashing 40 or more homers in each of the last three seasons. Second baseman Robinson Cano, Cruz's all-star teammate, is not going anywhere. After this season, Cano, 34, still has six years and $144 million left on his contract.
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