day 17: the toddfather

Today is 17 days, which is two weeks and three days of the omer: tiferet she’b’tiferet.

Like yesterday’s pick, today’s played both college football and college baseball. But don’t worry: There’s no college football digression today (though there is a digression of another nature), mostly because his tenure wasn’t that memorable and because he played for the other “UT”.

But his professional baseball career, 17 years entirely with the Colorado Rockies, was quite memorable. First baseman Todd Helton was a five-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger, and three-time Gold Glove Award winner. He holds the Colorado Rockies club records for hits (2,519), home runs (369), doubles (592), walks (1,335), runs scored (1,401), RBI (1,406), games played (2,247), and total bases (4,292). He was the face of the franchise practically since its inception and is a future HoFer.

Alcohol PSA digression: About a year ago Helton was arrested for his second DUI after he crashed into a telephone pole. No other cars were involved, and no one else was hurt. He served two days in jail, had his license suspended, and paid a $350 fine. Driving while intoxicated is abhorrent, so I have reservations about according him the great honor of being included in this project, but he has apparently since completed treatment, so I’ll be compassionate about his addiction (especially since his mentor also apparently suffers from it). Don’t drink and drive, kids.

This rather dry video put together by MLB of Helton’s career highlights is almost fitting for a player whose national newspaper profile was titled, “The Greatest Player Nobody Knows.” The story leads with Helton’s question, “Why do you want to interview me?” A few years later the hometown paper would say something similar: “Helton is a 100 percent pure, meat-and-potatoes, made-in-America athlete. He is the pride of the Rockies. The Colorado first baseman never cheats a paying customer. Loves winning, hates to talk about himself. His game is no brag, all bat.”

As I’ve said before, the yamim kefulim, so to speak, present a bit of a challenge. How does Helton exemplify a double dose of beauty, harmony, or truth? I’m thinking about this in a couple of different ways.

To start, in the world of nature tiferet is represented by sun and sky. There is almost no place where those elements loom larger than in the Centennial State. As a kid, like many Texans, I spent summers in Colorado, visiting my great-aunt in Pueblo, my cousins in Denver, and my mom’s whole huge family at reunions in Breckenridge and Vail. It’s just different there: The firmament stretches out and it feels like the whole world opens up. Plus, at 5,200 feet, Coors Field is by far the highest stadium in the majors; the elevation means that balls hit in the park go as close to the sun as is likely in this land. I love watching a game there in the summer. It’s spectacular.

Rockies vs Diamondbacks Game 4 of the NLCS at Coors Field.
John Leyba, The Denver Post

As great as Helton was, he also regularly struggled with injury, to the point of struggling even to get out of bed, to the point of needing hours of treatment before playing. His alma mater’s paper trenchantly summed up the combination in a reflection on his career: “Big hits, nagging injuries.” Helton later explained his mindset during those hard times: a balance he called “comfortably miserable.”

It’s in that balance, between hesed and gevruah, that tiferet rests, “joining the extremes of right and left . . . into a single, integrated personality” (Rabbi Art Green in Ehyeh). One manager used to say of Helton: “He works his tail off. Never satisfied. And he doesn’t take himself too seriously.” Said another: ”A lot of young guys coming up now just think, ‘Offense, offense, offense.’ But Todd works at every aspect of the game, to try to be a complete player. He’s not a speedy base runner, but he’s a smart base runner. And in the field, he’s excellent. He’s one of the best at coming in on bunts.”

So let’s count day 17 in honor of this player balanced up right in the middle of the Rocky Mountain sky.

featured image: Kristi Helton/special to the New Sentinal

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