As Rockies retire Todd Helton’s number, his high school coach reflects

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Photo: Todd Helton (AP Photo)This weekend, the Colorado Rockies will celebrate Todd Helton -- the most important player in the team’s history. Helton retired last fall and, on Sunday, the team will retire his jersey number, 17, a first in Rockies history.

Helton was a dual threat -- known as a great first baseman and great hitter. He retired with a .316 lifetime batting average, and holds Rockies records in hits, home runs and almost every other batting category.

Helton was also remarkable for playing his entire career with the team. Only 21 players in Major League Baseball history played more games for one team than Helton did for the Rockies.

Before he became a Rockies legend or played at the University of Tennessee, where he became friends with Denver Broncos Quarterback Peyton Manning, Helton played high school baseball at Central High School in Knoxville, Tenn. Walter Bales was his coach. Helton has credited Bales with helping him mature as a person.

Bales, who has retired from Central High School, remembers Helton as a hardworking player with lots of talent. "He and his dad would work together after practice," Bales says, continuing to throw or hit baseballs.

Bales had played in the minor leagues, and so he also helped Helton know what to expect when he became a professional ballplayer.

"I had an idea of what he would be faced with down the road, how he’d need to perform and treat people he associated with in the majors. We talked about stuff like that," Bales says.

And Bales set tough rules for the team.

"We had rules as far as hair, how long your hair could be, no beards, and keep your shoes polished and shirttails in and play the game like the old fashioned way," Bales says.

Bales says he will be in Denver this weekend for the festivities, and will watch the Rockies' series against the Cincinnati Reds.