DENVER — Todd Helton never thought he was going to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and that feeling lasted right up to the moment he got the call to Cooperstown.
Days after Helton was elected to the Hall by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, the slugging first baseman is still getting used to the idea.
"I didn't think my phone was going to ring," Helton said Saturday. "Once I retired, people said, 'We'll see you in the Hall of Fame.' I was nice and cordial with them, but in the back of my mind I thought, 'There's no way I can make the Hall of Fame.' Just because it's such an exclusive club. So to make it is very surreal."
Helton, a 50-year-old Knoxville native who starred for his hometown Tennessee Volunteers in college — where he also played football — spent his entire 17-year career in Major League Baseball with the Colorado Rockies, batting .316 with 369 home runs and 1,406 RBIs. He was elected on the sixth try as voters warmed to statistics helped by the thin mile-high air of Denver's Coors Field.
Helton, Adrián Beltré and Joe Mauer will be inducted on July 21 in Cooperstown, New York, along with Jim Leyland, elected last month by the contemporary era committee for managers, executives and umpires. Helton will be the second Rockies player inducted, joining Larry Walker (2020), who also played for the Montreal Expos and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Tuesday's announcement touched off a whirlwind of activities for Helton, who traveled to Colorado for the team's fan festival.
"It's been really neat to see how much the Rockies fans have cared and reached out," he said. "When I got out of the car at the hotel last night, people were cheering and yelling. I mean, that's very surreal, because I owe the Rockies fans, for being there for me, for getting me up when I didn't want to play, and just being great fans."
Helton also traveled to Cooperstown for a two-day visit and a tour of the Hall of Fame. He got a chance to hold one of Babe Ruth's bats and view the bat that George Brett used to hit a home run that was later nullified by umpires, ruling it had excessive pine tar on it. He also gingerly held the glove Willie Mays used to make his famed, over-the-shoulder basket catch while playing center field for the New York Giants in 1954.
Helton also saw the bat he used to hit the last of his 369 homers, on Sept. 25, 2013, in his final game at Coors against the Boston Red Sox. But the bat wasn't even his. He had a habit of borrowing bats from teammates if he had a string of poor results with his own.
"The bat that I hit my last home run is displayed there," Helton said. "It's Michael Cuddyer's, but I used it to hit the homer."
Helton recalled the pressure he felt ahead of that final home game, which was preceded by a team tribute in honor of his contributions to the Rockies. And he relayed a memorable postgame exchange with his father.
"I was thinking, 'I'm in trouble, I'm going to have a bad day.' That's just the way I thought," he said. "But you know, I was working on a new swing the last couple of weeks of that season and it was working, so my dad was like, after the game, he came up and said, 'You're not retiring.' I said, 'Dad, it's done. Sorry.'"