Settling into his fifth full season in a Colorado jersey, first baseman Todd Helton, 28, has already built a reputation as one of the most natural hitters in the game. A former University of Tennessee quarterback, Helton is now looking to improve on last year’s 49 homers, 146 RBIs (second in the league behind Sammy Sosa), and .336 average. Here are his thoughts on the Rockies and his swing this season.
AW: Is there an aspect of your game you’re looking to improve?
TH:I like to hit the ball the other way a little bit more. And I’d like to hit for a higher average.
AW: Higher than .336?
TH: Yeah. I think all I have to do is cut down on my strikeouts. I struck out more than I ever have last year, and if I cut down on that, my average will go back up.
AW: And what does “hitting the other way” mean for you?
TH: I’m left-handed, so hitting the ball the other way would be smacking it to the left. A regular guy would pull the ball; hitting it the other way is the opposite of pulling. In baseball, that sets up everything else. If you can hit the ball the other way, sooner or later the pitcher will start pitching you in. When they start pitching you in, that’s when you got ’em. That’s when you can start hitting home runs.
AW: How have you gotten to the place you are now with your hitting?
TH: I have worked very hard on my swing, ever since I was young. My dad built me a tee in the garage out of a washing machine hose and we had a fishing net up. I could go down there and hit whenever I wanted to. That’s the thing about baseball. I mean, you don’t have to be the best athlete to be good. You have to be somewhat of an athlete, but you also have to be willing to put in the time and if you work hard at it, anybody can be pretty good.
AW: So, what about the Rockies this year?
TH: We’re definitely going to be young, talented, and hopefully we’ll gel and get on a roll. If you get that confidence it can be a huge thing and overcome a lot of inexperience. We’re probably picked last in the league to finish, or close to it. A lot of the guys on our team are too young to even know or care about that, and that’s great. We’re just going to go out and play and see what happens — and have a good time doing it.
— JAMES E. MAYFIELD