Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Hurdle, Helton agree: Winning is a priority, even in the minors

Former Colorado Rockies manager Clint Hurdle, left, and longtime Rockies star Todd Helton discuss their roles with the organization during a Tuesday press conference at Isotopes Park. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Todd Helton and Clint Hurdle enjoyed considerable success wearing Colorado Rockies uniforms. They remember how good it felt.

Now the former All-Star first baseman and longtime field manager are trying to bring that feeling back to the organization by bridging the gap between the recent past and baseball’s fast-evolving future.

Helton and Hurdle recently signed on with the Rockies as special assistants to first-year Rockies General Manager Bill Schmidt. Both are in Albuquerque this week to watch, evaluate and work with the Isotopes, who opened a six-game home series against Sacramento on Tuesday night.

It’s something of a new era for the Rockies organization this season, with greater emphasis placed on winning at the minor league levels while players adjust to rules and technology changes designed to increase on-field action and pace of play. Helton and Hurdle embrace the changes, but they also believe sharing firsthand knowledge is important.

“Little things,” Helton said when asked what tips he plans to share with Isotopes players. “These guys are on the cusp of going to the big leagues, there’s not too much you need to tell them. … Sometimes you just need someone different to talk to and put an arm around you when you’re hitting .250 and tell you it’ll be OK. Everyone goes through that at some point.”

Helton didn’t experience many prolonged hitting slumps during his 17-year MLB career – all with the Rockies. He was a career .317 hitter and holds nearly all of the organization’s significant offensive records, including hits (2,519), home runs (369), runs (1,401) and RBIs (1,406).

A five-time All-Star, Helton is the first Rockies player to have his number (17) retired by the organization and received 52% of the vote in his fourth year on the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in 2022.

“Being able to spend some time with Todd Helton is a rare opportunity for our minor leagues,” Hurdle said. “If I’m a young player and see a guy with his pedigree come in, I’m going to ask Helton some questions.”

Hurdle, who played for four major league clubs, served as a longtime hitting coach in the Rockies organization and later managed the club from 2002-09. He led Colorado to its lone National League pennant in 2007 and holds the franchise record for career wins (534) by a manager.

When it came to the minor leagues, Colorado’s organization long prioritized player development over winning games. That outlook has recently changed, something Helton and Hurdle both welcome.

“We need to rebrand,” Hurdle said. “There are certain things you need to do to win, those things play at every level and they need to be the focus. Players understand that mentality, and we want guys coming to Colorado who’ve won together.”

Helton agreed.

“We want to win baseball games,” he said, “at every level. It’s important.”

Helton, who played college football at Tennessee, believes that sport’s mental approach can serve professional baseball players well.

“I tell players to take a football-type mentality to preparation,” Helton said. “Treat every game like you only play once a week. Be present, focused and bring that same intensity every day.”

While Helton and Hurdle are well qualified to counsel minor leagues on the grind of a major league season and on the unique aspects of playing in Denver’s high altitude, they too are adjusting to baseball’s evolving rules. From pitch clocks to limited pitching changes, to “ghost runners” in extra innings, baseball has been taking steps to speed up games.

Hurdle generally approves.

“We’re looking at a different fan base now,” he said, “not a bunch of guys my age. Younger fans want to have action on the field, keep things crisp, and that’s where we’re going. Better pace of play is good for the game.”

Hurdle, who also spent nine seasons managing the Pittsburgh Pirates until 2019, said he and Helton are looking forward to taking a more personal approach in their new roles.

“We want to be the guys players look forward to seeing,” he said. “Not just more coaches.”

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