Hope for the Colorado Rockies Springs Eternal

A What's So Funny special report from spring training in Tucson.

The game ends in a Rockies loss — the main highlight is Tulo's first-pitch-he-faces bomb — and I walk a few blocks to a bus stop, where I catch a ride to my hotel and watch Hillary beat Obama. Sigh. I eat at a nearby T.G.I. Friday's, where I write this joke: I don't like eating at T.G.I. Friday's, because I like my meals to be non-denominational. And I don't believe in goodness.

One of the bartenders offers me a dessert that, if I'm not mistaken, contains both chocolate and cheddar cheese. But I decline: I have a big day tomorrow. The press is allowed back in the clubhouse from 8:45 to 9:45 a.m., and I've got me some more Rockies to holler at.

In the clubhouse the next morning, I watch Brian Giles — the San Diego Padres infielder who tried to throw Holliday out at the plate in that historic tie-breaker last season, and who is now in camp competing for a spot — man his iPod that's plugged into the clubhouse's stereo. Clint Hurdle comes out of his office to appraise each track. But I don't see any of my favorite Rockies, so I head up to the bleachers to catch them coming into the clubhouse from the weight room. And then I see Todd Helton.

photos by Holly Harris
Todd Helton, Matt Holliday and the rest of the Rockies are ready for business.
photos by Holly Harris
Todd Helton, Matt Holliday and the rest of the Rockies are ready for business.

"Todd, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?" I call out to the Rockies' first baseman.

"Does this look like an interview spot to you, bud?" he responds with a stone face.

I start to stammer, but then Helton cracks the faintest hint of a smile. Is Todd Helton fucking with me? I think Todd Helton is fucking with me. And he's got a damn good poker face.

"I heard a rumor about you," I say.

"I'm not gay," he fires back.

Poker face and a sense of humor. I'm seeing a side of Helton I've never seen before.

I tell him that I've heard he's in the market for a new hunting dog, and he perks up.

"Yeah, what you got?"

I tell him how my mother recently bred her show-dog Chesapeake Bay Retriever, arguably the best breed of water dog in the world, and that we have one left. Helton says he's not really looking right now but appreciates the offer. But I know I can't leave it at that, so I ask how many dogs he has. He tells me two, but that he's more of a laid-back dog kind of guy, and Chessies are a little high-strung for him, a little snappy around strangers. Helton knows his shit. This is certainly an occasional trait in the Chessie bloodline, which developed from the breed having to protect fishermen's shacks on the Chesapeake Bay. But while I respect Helton's take on the matter, I feel I must inform him that this is not the case with all Chessies, and definitely not with this current, sensational batch. I tell Helton that I took one of the puppies, and that her demeanor is quite mild. Still, Helton tells me he's happy with his two Chocolate Labs.

"Even though I was duck-hunting and goose-hunting on the river this winter," he begins. "And it was flowing straight ice, you know, big chunks of ice, and my young dog wouldn't jump in there, it was scared to death. My older dog got in there, but that's really when you need a Chessie."

Helton asks if I have a picture, and of course I do, so I pull out a photo of the one unclaimed Chessie in the litter, and he and I laugh at the size of his big old head. Then Helton thanks me for showing him the picture, but he politely declines again and heads into the clubhouse.

I was that close.

I realize that talking about Chesapeake Bay Retrievers will probably be my one interaction with a man destined for the Hall of Fame. And this makes me incredibly happy.

But it's no time to gloat, because I spy Tulo and Holliday crossing the outfield, heading for the clubhouse. Rather than accost them outside, as I did Helton, I position myself by their lockers. Holliday is slow to get there, since he's chatting with a few teammates and grabbing a bowl of oatmeal. But once he finally sits down in front of his locker and I ask if I can interview him, he's happy to oblige.

For being perhaps the best baseball player in Major League Baseball — yeah, I said it — Matt Holliday is remarkably chill and down-to-earth, even if he is the size of a mastodon. I ask him the walk-up-music question, and he tells me he hasn't given it too much thought, but there's a Linkin Park song he's into right now. No comment. I move on to the SportsCenter greatest-clip question, and he talks about growing up in Oklahoma with his father, who was a college coach, and how a lot of his enjoyment of sports came from following the guys who went through his dad's program and made it into the bigs.

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