07/15/2003 10:36 PM ET
Rox have blast at All-Star Game
Helton's two-run blast highlights Colorado experience
CHICAGO -- The ball flew some 407 feet over the center-field wall and Todd Helton smiled on Tuesday night.
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
Both developments represented a complete turnaround from last year's All-Star Game events for Helton, the Colorado Rockies' first baseman.
Helton's homer, off the first pitch to him from Seattle's Shigetoshi Hasegawa in the fifth inning, lifted the National League to a 2-1 lead during a five-run inning. The American League won the game, 7-6.
There was no reason Helton wouldn't bring his hot streak into the All-Star Game. Before the break, he had hits in 27 of the last 28 regular-season games, and four homers in the final three games.
"I got to take batting practice yesterday," Helton said. "That's the thing about the All-Star Game. If you're going bad you want to take the three days off. If you're going good you want to keep swinging."
This time last year, Helton was swinging through pain.
In Milwaukee, he managed a single -- the first in All-Star play by Helton, now in his fourth game and third as a starter
-- and drove in a run. But he played the season with a bone spur in his back for most of the season, and the pain he was feeling merely running down the first-base line was apparent in the clenched-teeth look of his face.
Helton lasted the season, hitting for little power. Rockies physicians chose not to operate after the season. Anti-inflammatory medicine and an exercise program has helped Helton stay healthy this year.
"I remember taking batting practice last year in Milwaukee, which is a good place to hit," Helton said the day before the game, leaning painlessly in a folding chair. "I couldn't even hit the ball. I did take BP. Guys were like leaving the yard at-will and I'm trying to keep my edge and it wasn't working. I knew I was in trouble.
"It's something that I'm always going to have to deal with. It's not something that is ever going to be totally healthy. It's just a maintenance type thing, to make sure that I don't get back to the situation I was in last year."
There is no pain in this year's experience. Not only is he hitting well (.349, second in the NL, 21 home runs and 78 RBIs) but he's well-accompanied. He brought his father, Jerry Helton, to the game.
Helton's dad taught him a stroke that lashes balls up the middle and the opposite way, mainly because Helton was afraid to pull the ball. Helton, you see, would do hitting in his garage in Knoxville, Tenn. If he pulled the ball, it would hit his father's Fiberglas boat, which meant trouble.
Helton's deep shot to right-center would have been OK at any age with dad, who was at U.S. Cellular Field to share the experience.
"I'm sure my dad was way more excited than I was," Helton said. "I was happy to contribute, to get us on the board.
Helton was joined on the active All-Star roster by Preston Wilson, who entered the game in right field -- he usually plays center - in the bottom of the fifth, and led off the top of the sixth with a bouncing single up the middle off Oakland's Mark Mulder. He was erased on a double play.
Wilson brought his 9-month-old daughter, his mother and his stepfather, former Major League outfielder Mookie Wilson, among his contingent.
"It was a great feeling, really, just to get into the game," Wilson said. "Getting a hit was just an added thrill."
Wilson, who leads the National League with 91 RBIs, said he believes he hadn't played right field in a game since 1998. "It was a different look, but it didn't feel too awkward out there," he said.
Rockies right-handed pitcher Shawn Chacon was chosen to the NL team, but did not participate because he is coming off an elbow injury.
"I got out there (between innings), caught some balls, threw some balls to the fans," said Chacon, who is healthy and will take an 11-4 record into his next start, Saturday at San Francisco. "It was fun, a lot of fun. I wish I could have played. It will give me incentive to try to get back one of these years."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.