No. 5 in a series on TODD HELTON, Hall of Famer

Helton had a bat that sizzled and hit angry line drives


Jon Miller assisted Bud Bales in coaching Todd Helton in baseball at Central High School and was Joel Helton’s Defensive Coordinator and Special Teams coach when Todd played football for the Bobcats.

Miller, who later became principal at Central, recently took time to recall some memories and share stories on Todd, who will be inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame this summer on July 21 in Cooperstown, N.Y.


“I was very fortunate to be at Central High School and coaching football and baseball through the 1990s and 1980s. We had some outstanding athletes and of course Todd Helton was at the top of all those lists. He was just a phenomenal young man and it sure was a pleasure watching him play every day and practice. I was very fortunate, not only with Todd, but that baseball team was loaded and the football team was loaded. It made coaching really easy and fun.

“I started helping Coach Bales when I started at Central, so I helped him probably 10 years. And I’m going to tell you, we had some phenomenal baseball teams all through the 80s and 90s and when Bud was there – I’ll put in a plug for Bud Bales. Of course he is in several Halls of Fame, and my goodness, what a terrific mentor and coach. I couldn’t have asked for a better guy to work with. I learned so much from him. Of course, I was really young and he was just super to watch work every day and see what he went through and how detailed he was. Relating that with Todd, he didn’t shy away from any of that. He just gobbled it up.

“Todd came from excellent athletic stock. Jerry (his dad) was a pro baseball player and a great high school athlete also. He was hard on (big brother) Rodney and Todd both, as far as staying on them, making them toe the line, lifting weights and he was with them every day, too. He really pushed them. They were just phenomenal; both of them.

“One of my favorite stories is no matter what Todd did, if it was off-season or in-season, anytime Jerry was around, he would scream at Todd all the time: ‘Did you get your benches in? Did you get your benches in?’ Todd was such a gifted athlete; he didn’t have to lift a whole lot of weight. He put his time in. But Jerry stayed on him all the time about his weight work and all that sort of stuff. Todd was so even-tempered and everything, I know he got frustrated with them (Jerry and his uncle Joel). They stayed on him all the time. Of course, we all knew we had a prize there. You didn’t have to motivate Todd Helton a whole lot. He was the most fierce competitor I probably ever coached, other than his brother.

(Rodney and Todd were not in high school at the same time. There’s four or five years difference in their ages.)

“Rodney was a baseball player and a football player. He was absolutely tough as nails. Todd got a lot of that from watching his brother and I’m sure growing up they probably challenged each other a lot. They also loved each other to death.

“Rodney was a starter since he was a freshman, and I’m telling you, he worked hard in the weight room. Of course, to get a scholarship to Alabama; that’s all you really need to know. He went down there and came back with a national championship ring.

“To relate that to Todd, they were both really tough kids and mentally just outstanding and just hated to lose. I think that was a Helton characteristic. It didn’t matter if it was Jerry or Joel or Rodney or Todd, they wanted to win. I think that’s instilled in all of them. And it was contagious, both their attitudes and toughness exuded through and through our team. You knew if you were playing Todd or Rodney, you were playing two winners right there.

“Todd wasn’t the big brute that Rodney was. Rodney was a big, strong middle linebacker and fullback and he would just blow you up. He was just a mentally tough kid. Todd in a different way was mentally as tough as Rodney was. But both of them were great kids.

“They were competitive and intense – the whole family. But stuck together and loved each other. The Helton family also included two younger brothers, Ronnie and Timmy, and two sisters, Debbie and Jamie.”


Early memories include a sizzling bat

“One of my earliest memories of Todd athletically was when he was in the eighth grade at Gresham. He would walk over to Central High after school. This little eighth grader comes in – and I mean you can hear the ball sizzle off the bat. It just makes a different sound. I’m throwing BP to him and I’m behind the screen. I didn’t have a helmet on at the time, but when he came in here to take some swings, I would put a helmet on. That’s how good he was with the bat even as an eighth grader.

“I’m sure if there was a pick-up game in the backyard, whether he was swinging at corks or bottle caps or whatever, he was phenomenal at it.

“I knew Todd would be coming over to high school as a ninth grader and I thought, man this kid right here is going to make my JV team pretty good next season. He never saw a JV uniform.

“Heck no, his freshman year, he lined up in center field and I’m telling you, that skinny little thing – HE WAS TOUGH.

“When Todd came to Central his freshman year and was starting on the baseball team out there in center field, he didn’t look very big at all and he wasn’t. But my goodness, could he play. I mean he could bunt, hit, catch, pitch, he could do it all.

“Another characteristic about the Heltons … When Joel played at Cumberland University, he was skinny as a rail and Todd was as skinning as a rail and I’m assuming Jerry was too. But when Todd got to the pros and out of college, his body developed. He got bigger and stronger. Joel was the same way. They called him the Bear because he was so strong. And Jerry was the same way. Their bodies just matured a little bit later and man, they were big people.

“I’ll tell you another memory I have of Todd too. Of course he’s in the Hall of Fame because he batted .330 for his career. His whole deal was he hit line drives. I mean he hit angry balls in gaps. He could just crush it. He didn’t hit those big, towering bombs like Bubba Trammel (former high school and college teammate who also played in the majors). Bubba hit stuff a stewardess ought to be on. Todd would hit stuff that would hurt your neck. Everything he hit was a line drive. His home runs were just missiles when he hit it out. You can look at his stats in college and pros. Of course, he hit to every field and he hit tons of doubles because he could just hit line drives in gaps. That was his style. He just could absolutely hit the ball on the screws. Like I said, a different sound. You could hear the ball hiss when it took off his bat. When he hit it, he wasn’t getting any of those cheap hits.”



A quarterback with a linebacker’s mentality

“Football-wise, I will tell you that most of his accolades were from the offensive side because he was a great field general, a competitor, like I said he just hated to lose, but he was so talented. He played defense for me as a free safety and he said – ‘I want to be a linebacker,’ – I tried playing him 15 yards deep, but I couldn’t keep him there. He was just hard-nosed, and just wanted to be involved in everything, but such a smart player – I mean you could tell him anything and he would know exactly what adjustments to make.

“And I always said he’s a quarterback with a linebacker’s mentality. He loved to mix it up and get into the action. I even developed some blitzes for him without Joel knowing it, uh, too. I put him through the A gap occasionally, knowing he was our star quarterback and I would send him right in the meat of the action. He didn’t shy away a lick and I don’t think anybody hardly ever put a hand on him. He was just so good. He was such a gamesman. He knew how to play anything. If you played mumbly peg or checkers with him, he was going to figure out how to win.

“I think one of the biggest things other than God-given talent I always say he has is his computer was just faster than everybody’s. His decision-making was phenomenal, just off the charts. And I think in both sports that was on display. If it’s hitting a baseball coming at you at 95 miles per hour, Todd Helton could do it because his computer was fast. If it was making a decision on throwing an out route or a skinny post, he could anticipate and see and make quick decisions. I think that’s the thing that separates him as much as anything … along with that great talent he had.”



When needed, Todd had a go-to drill

“I had hired Gaines Cox as our baseball coach at Central when I became the school’s principal later in my career. Todd had come back into town and he came by the school one day. Coach Cox wanted to meet him and pick his brain a little bit. I remember Coach Cox asked him, ‘When you’re not hitting it real well, what’s your go-to drill to get back to hitting the ball?’ Todd said, and I can just picture this, ‘I go in the cage and I do what I did as a kid. I throw the ball up and I try to hit the back of the net with it.’ Instead of using a tee, just toss it up, soft toss it and hit line drives. And that was Todd Helton.

“I know he and his dad hit thousands of balls in their basement. Jerry had a net and I know they hit tons of balls and Jerry probably sat there for hours, tossing it to him. They probably just worked on the same thing – just driving the ball and hitting it level. Just hitting line drives. I saw that every day. That’s the way he hit it through college and in his pro career. He stung it, absolutely.

“The one season he hit .372, he was chasing .400 for a long time.”



Todd plays golf right-handed

“We were behind the gym one day at Central and I had some golf clubs out. I was messing around and Todd came up and said, ‘Hey, can I hit one?’ I said sure. You know he’s left-handed. I can’t hardly eat left-handed. We’re probably 150 yards away from the stadium and the football field and we dropped a couple of balls. He takes my right-handed club and just nails it – I don’t know if it was a 7-iron or what – but just like he hits a baseball, he nails it and it’s as straight as a string and lands on the football field. He tees another one up and hits the same way and I’m thinking holy smokes. Until this day, he still plays golf right-handed. And I don’t know if he had ever played. He’s probably swung a golf club, but that just amazed me. That’s how talented he was. If it was hitting something, he had that God-given ability to hit it square.

“I’ll tell you a few other characteristics about Todd. He’s just a great individual with great character. He was the guy that the teachers loved and the kids loved him. He had all this talent and all these awards and you would never know he was in the building. Low profile, quiet, good student, just an outstanding young man. His brother was kind of the same way.

“Rodney, like I said, was the toughest guy I ever coached, but he wouldn’t say boo unless something was out of kilter, then he would take care of it.

“Todd is as high character young man as you ever want to have. I think you saw that too at UT and also when he played for the Rockies for 17 years. The people fell in love with him because he is such a good person.”