So is Ripken's. Baseball's ultimate gamer and gentleman, the last vestige of what was once proudly called The Oriole Way -- dedicated to fundamentals and based on a strong farm system -- played 21 years for a team to which he had blood ties, becoming one of its greatest icons. But he knew this spring that the end was near. He said that although he was increasingly frustrated by the injuries that put him on the bench in recent seasons, the game had always kept him young and eager. "Last year, even being less than a year out of back surgery," he said, "I felt like the kid with a temperature who was sitting inside the house watching the other kids play." Alas, the silver-haired kid at the window must finally move on. To Cooperstown, to immortality.
That brings us, of course, to Todd Helton. If there's justice and goodness in the world, the National League will henceforth call its batting title the Tony Award (New York theater history be damned), the American League will give out the Holy Cal! trophy for most games played, and the Colorado Rockies' splendid MVP first baseman will become the guy who carries on the Gwynn-Ripken (the Gwypken?) tradition of loyalty in a world of crass merchandizing. Certainly the structure is already in place, and Helton's heart seems willing. Upon signing a lucrative contract extension this spring that will keep him in Denver for eleven more seasons (with an option to leave in 2007), the 27-year-old All-Star said: "When I was growing up, you identified a team by its players, and now I will be able to spend my entire career with one team. In this era, that's a very special feeling."
Just don't get hurt, kid. You're still a dozen or so points behind Gwynn in career batting average, and it will take 2,000 or so nights of uninterrupted play to get into the longevity ball game with the Ironman. So, have at 'em: Rockies fans want to watch you forever.