Sometimes you get lucky with an assignment. Intriguing topic. Interesting interviews. And time to tell the story. I got lucky when I was asked to tell the Manning-rehabs-with-the-Rockies-because-of-his-friend-Todd Helton story. True, it's "old news," but now (after Peyton Manning's record-setting season), the context gives those two weeks Manning spent with the Rockies in the spring of 2011 a more meaningful significance.
It was Helton's idea. Because the NFL lockout prevented Manning from having access to trainers and facilities in Indianapolis, Helton suggested he get to Coors Field and work out with Rockies head athletic trainer Keith "Doogie" Dugger. He and Manning had already met. In fact, most of the Rockies management and players had seen the quarterback a few times before, taking batting practice and fielding grounders. Dugger and Helton both said Manning has pretty good range at short, by the way. And the greatest Rockie in franchise history said his longtime friend from Tennessee "went deep" more than once in batting practice. Not just in the thin air of Coors, either. Manning would visit the team on the road from time to time. (Aside: Dugger said the BroncosEric Decker has skills on a baseball field ... able to track a ball well in the outfield and swing a good bat at the plate. Figures -- Decker was drafted by the Minnesota Twins having played for the Gophers in college.)
Helton and Manning go back 20 years, and it's easy to see why they became and remained friends throughout. They are so much alike in the approaches they take in their respective sports. Professional. Myopic. Humble. Neither putting himself above the game. Ever. Both at the top of their sports through most of their careers. No doubt, Manning is headed for Canton. In five years, Helton will be in the conversation when writers discuss his Cooperstown worthiness.
Manning and his family were there when Helton played his last game at Coors this past September. Helton prefers watching the Broncos "on the couch." Not a fan of crowds, he enjoys those endeavors that afford him solitude, outdoors. He's taken Manning hunting and says Peyton is a pretty good shot. And Helton likes golf. He says he doesn't have a handicap, that it doesn't matter to him. He just likes to play. And get this: One of the best left-handed hitters in the game over the last 15 years plays golf right-handed!
Helton gave us a full morning of his time for this story, and along with his wife Christy and daughters Tierney and Gentry, could not have been more gracious. Dugger allowed us access to places at Coors Field where few media are allowed. (Aside: Carlos Gonzalez was working out that day, and it was December!) For him to take us back in time and share what those early days were like for Manning was, indeed, interesting. I'm still trying to fathom that the man who set the NFL single-season passing yardage record could not throw the ball eight yards when he first came to Coors in 2011.
Sometimes you get lucky with an assignment.