COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — The two players spent their entire careers playing for rivals in the National League West, yet the art of hitting was something that brought Tony Gwynn and Todd Helton together.
Helton, who spent 17 years as a member of the Colorado Rockies, and Gwynn, who recorded 20 seasons with the San Diego Padres, are now both officially members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Gwynn earned his spot in baseball immortality in 2007, and Helton will see his plaque hung in Cooperstown this summer as a member of the Class of 2024.
Helton paid tribute to Gwynn during one of his first interviews after being elected to the Hall of Fame earlier this week, telling the story of how a single piece of advice from Gwynn changed his approach to hitting.
During Thursday’s behind-the-scenes tour of the Hall of Fame as part of a day of celebrating the new class in Cooperstown, Helton joined fellow 2024 inductee Joe Mauer and Hall officials to take in some of the memorabilia and moments that make the building such a mecca for baseball fans.
Helton, however, paused a little longer when he turned the corner and saw a display case that held a jersey worn by Gwynn.
It is clear talking to Helton the enormity of the impact that Gwynn, who passed away in 2014, had on the trajectory of his career. It’s also clear just how much Gwynn’s friendship and hitting advice meant to Helton on a personal and professional level.
“I wish Tony was still here. I really enjoyed talking to him,” Helton told me after the tour.
There is a bond that baseball players share, not only because of what they experience together on the field but also the lessons that they can teach each other to improve their craft. For Helton, the next discussion on hitting with a current Hall of Famer involves a chat he hopes to have with Edgar Martinez who, like Gwynn and Helton, spent all of his 18 MLB seasons with one team, the Seattle Mariners.
“I loved his approach,” Helton said of Martinez. “I wouldn’t really talk swing with him. I’d love to talk mental approach. He was never off balance. The pitchers are always trying to get you off balance, so that’s something I’d like to talk to him about.”
Gwynn predicted in 2011 that Helton would be a Hall of Famer, saying in an interview, “[Helton is] going to be that guy that I was for the Padres for the Rockies — that, when it’s all said and done, people are going to look back and say that Todd Helton was really one of the first guys who played his whole career here and established himself as a Rockie.”
Now that that prediction has come true, Helton’s moment in front of Gwynn’s jersey on Thursday was a simple way of saying thanks once again to a player who loved talking about hitting and wasn’t afraid to share a tip or two, even to a division rival.