SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Before the week began, most of what Rockies first baseman and prospect Michael Toglia knew about franchise legend Todd Helton was from “all his YouTube videos.” .
Considering the Rockies believe Toglia has the potential to win a Gold Glove at first base, the story of three-time Gold Glove winner Helton is a fascinating subject for the young prospect to study.
But why let Toglia just watch video when the Rockies can present him with the flesh-and-blood version? Helton found out everything he could about Toglia before reporting to minor league camp Monday as a guest instructor for a week. Another Rockies All-Star and Gold Glove winner, Carlos Gonzalez, also joined camp as a guest instructor.
“I told him the reason I’m here is so I can see him,” said Helton, who played each of his 17 seasons (1997-2013) in the major leagues with the Rockies and has seen his Hall of Fame candidacy Fame keeps getting better. “He moves very well for someone so great. He has great hands and a good swing.”
Helton and Gonzalez are in Arizona to offer words of encouragement, specific advice, and serve as guides for prospects in the organization. While there is specific data ex-players can share, it’s not the only thing they can do. The current camp also features Clint Hurdle, who managed the club to the 2007 World Series, in a special advisory role. Pedro Julio Astacio, who pitched for Colorado between 1997 and 2001 – when it was even harder to pitch at Coors Field – is helping pitchers during practice, something he also does at the team’s academy in the Dominican Republic.
It’s common for teams to use workouts as an opportunity for their young players to mingle with some of the organization’s retired stars. This includes several of the most storied teams in the game, such as the Yankees, Cardinals and Dodgers.
But it could well be argued that for the Rockies, having their former glories present is even more important.
The Rockies’ history is a pattern of long stretches interspersed with surprising years in which the club is in contention or makes the postseason. They play in the often difficult elevation of Denver, a constant challenge for the players. The lack of wins and the constant questions make the Rockies an easy team to hit from public opinion.
General manager Bill Schmidt, who is in his first year on the job, has been in charge of the draft process for the team since 2000. Director of player development Chris Forbes has many years with the organization. Yes, he has seen bad years, but also very good players and some successful campaigns. They don’t have to worry about young ballplayers hearing stories of the bad old days.
That’s why it’s good to hear about the successes, straight from the mouths of the players who made it possible.
“I always talk about how important it is to be aware of the big picture,” Forbes said. “21st century gamers have more distractions than any generation in the past. I always tell him. Many times they pay attention to what someone says on Twitter.
“By having these names here, players who have been through the ups and downs, and having someone like Clint, who speaks more about his failures than his successes, you can get closer to the truth, what is really important.”
The Rockies brought Helton from his home in Tennessee and called Gonzalez one day as he was sunbathing on a Miami beach. Former club manager Walt Weiss tried to get old team stars into workouts, but it never became a regular thing during Rockies camp.
Schmidt has made it a priority to create those kinds of links. He stated that he also wants to bring in Larry Walker, the first Rockies player to make it to the Hall of Fame. Walker visited the camp when Weiss was the leader.
“Those guys put a lot of time and effort into making us who we are,” Schmidt said. “They can contribute a lot.”
But Schmidt has a specific area where he wants stars like Helton and Gonzalez to help.
“As I told both of them, ‘I don’t need you at the major league level; I need them down here,’” Schmidt confessed.
Helton, who has briefly coached with the University of Tennessee and USA Baseball, recalled hearing the voice of a star for the first time when he came to professional baseball.
“My first Spring Training, Ken Griffey Sr. was the big team hitting coach and that was great for me, just being around him and listening to him,” Helton said. “He taught us a lot and it was fun to be around him.”
Helton, who said he’s enjoyed meeting Hurdle again and described Black as “great,” is open to more.
“I’m willing to help out in the minor leagues,” he said. “I want to stay in the minors and help young people. I’m willing to travel to different stadiums and watch the guys play.”
Gonzalez appears to be fit enough to play and has yet to formally retire. But his life with his wife and his three children has him busy enough. The family plans to move to Los Angeles now that their eight-year-old twin daughters want to get into the world of acting, their mother’s profession. He says that he hasn’t picked up a bat since he was released.
His role in camp has elements of the role he assumed late in his career with the Rockies. Gonzalez was often a source of information and calm for the likes of Charlie Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu, Nolan Arenado, Ryan McMahon and Trevor Story. He stays in touch with them and now wants to be an influence on Colorado prospects.
“You never really say to yourself, ‘I’m the leader of the clubhouse,’” said González, who was mentored by figures like Walker, Ellis Burks and Mexican Vinny Castilla during his years with the Rockies (2009-2018). “That is something that comes with time, being able to have that good communication with your teammates. Understand that beyond baseball, everyone has problems off the field.
“You just have to be a friend to them.”
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CarGo and Helton say present in Rockies