When former Vol Todd Helton left UT, he made quite an impact playing both football and baseball during his time at school. Now, nearly 17 years later, he is retiring from Major League Baseball and leaving an even bigger legacy.
A Knoxville native, Helton was a dual-sport athlete at UT, playing both for the baseball team and for the football team as a quarterback.
He started three games for the football team his junior year after taking over for injured Jerry Colquitt. His stay was short-lived though, as Helton opened the door for third stringer – and now Denver Broncos quarterback – Peyton Manning when he suffered a knee injury against Mississippi State.
But Helton's expertise was on the baseball diamond where he set the NCAA record for most consecutive scoreless innings pitched at 47. In 1995, he set the Tennessee saves record with 11 while posting a 0.89 ERA.
Helton also won the Dick Howser Trophy as National Collegiate Baseball Player of the Year.
In 1995, Helton was drafted eighth overall by the Colorado Rockies. He worked his way up through the farm teams before finally getting a shot at the majors, making his MLB debut on Aug. 1, 1997, exactly two years after signing with the Rockies. He started in left field that day against the Pittsburgh Pirates, registering his first major league base hit and home run.
Helton finished his rookie season with a .315 batting average and 25 home runs in 152 games. He led all major-league rookies in batting average, homers, RBIs (97), multi-hit games (49), total bases (281), slugging percentage (.530) and extra base hits (63). In the National League Rookie of Year voting, Helton came in second to Chicago Cubs pitcher, Kerry Wood. The Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame named Helton its 1998 Professional Athlete of the Year.
Helton has played in over 2,200 games, batted .317 during that span, and hit 369 home runs in his career. He leads Colorado in games, hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs, runs and walks. He was an All-Star from 2000-2004, possesses three Golden Gloves at first base, and an NL batting title from 2000 (.372 BA).
He officially announced his retirement on Sept. 15 and played his final home game Wednesday.
With the Rockies' Coors Field decorated in his honor, Helton provided the Denver fans with a special performance, going 2-for-3 with a home run and a double.
"I hoped I would go out and play well," Helton told The Associated Press. "But there was so much going on before the game. My expectations weren't that high. ... To be able to go out and play and be productive, that means a lot to me."
Manning took in the Helton's final appearance at Coors Field from the dugout and weighed in on the retirement of his former UT football teammate, telling the Associated Press, "Thanks for retiring and making me the oldest Denver athlete."