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Rockies Sign Helton Four Years


He has talent, wealth and every reason to brag, but Todd Helton cannot bring himself to utter words of self-promotion.

Instead, Helton rests his chin on the top of his bat and speaks in the humble tone of a man who has something to prove rather than one who represents the future of the Colorado Rockies.

"I'm definitely not what you'd call a star by any means," Helton said before signing a four-year, $12 million contract Tuesday. "I don't like to talk about it. It's kind of awkward for me. I don't want to be put into the spotlight."

Helton, 25, emerged from the shadows last season by hitting .315 with 25 homers and 97 RBIs. He led all rookies in the triple crown categories and finished second to Chicago Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood in the NL rookie of the year voting.

Wood finished nine points ahead of Helton in the closest vote in 16 years. While the residents in Helton's hometown of Knoxville, Tenn., absorbed another perceived snub -- Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning finished second in the 1997 Heisman Trophy voting -- Helton moved on quickly.

"Was I disappointed? Yeah. For about 15 seconds," he said. "Did I think about it again? No. I just got sick of hearing people talk about it. "

"If I was going to win it, I didn't want to win it for myself. I wanted to win it for the Rockies because they've never had anybody win it. It would have been a good honor."

Recognizing the talent in front of them, the Rockies approached Helton before spring training and asked if he would be willing to think about signing a long-term contract.

"It sort of blew me away," he said.

While genuinely flattered by Colorado's interest, Helton was clearly uncomfortable talking about becoming a millionaire as the negotiations played out during the first two weeks of spring training.

Helton and the Rockies eventually agreed on a four-year deal that will pay him $750,000 in 1999, $1.3 million in 2000, $4.95 million in 2001 and $5 million in 2002.

"I hope I outplay my contract," Helton said when asked if he feared the contract would become paltry in the age of exorbitant salaries. "That will mean the Rockies saved money and I'm playing well."

The road to a six-figure contract unfolded slowly for Helton, a former first-round draft pick who was a two-sport star at Tennessee.

Playing with the pressure of replacing two-time All-Star Andres Galarraga, Helton floundered in his first month in the majors, hitting .259 with no homers and 12 RBIs.

b>"There's no normal reason a kid with his talent should go six weeks without falling into a home run," Rockies hitting coach Clint Hurdle said. "It was just classic overtrying and not staying with his strengths and doing what he's capable of doing. Once he did that, he took off."

Helton hit his first homer of the season on May 5 and slowly proved he could handle left-handed pitchers. He was tireless in the batting cage and diligently worked to improve his defense at first base.

"He's a very appreciative young man for what's happened, and I think he's also one of those guys that found out that it's not going to be easy," Rockies manager Jim Leyland said, "but he knows he can compete up here and he knows he can be successful."

Convinced Helton was ready to play everyday, the Rockies traded utility player Greg Colbrunn to the Atlanta Braves on July 30, leaving Helton to sink or swim in August and September.

Helton responded by hitting .363 with eight homers and 41 RBIs over the final two months, giving voters something to think about as they pondered their choices for rookie of the year.

Though Helton finished second, he got a boost when Tennessee won college football's national championship in January. Throw in a new contract and life is good for one of baseball's richest second-year players.

"I'm in the big leagues," Helton said. "They have to be going pretty well if I'm playing in the big leagues."

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