"Gee, thanks," Helton said, rolling his eyes at Leyland's comments. Helton, like most Rockies hitters, doesn't like to acknowledge the Coors advantage. "Is it a good park to hit in? Yeah," he concedes. "So are Wrigley Field and Camden Yards. I didn't design Coors Field; I just play there. But if I had designed it, I'd be proud of it. It's a beautiful place to play."
"This is what I've told Todd," says Colorado hitting coach Clint Hurdle, who was a teammate of Brett's in 1980. "There's nothing negative about what you're doing. Todd's real sharp. He's learned so much quicker than most people to worry only about what you can control. Everything else, you let go."
Helton has improved in each of his three full seasons in the big leagues. With a slope-shouldered physique reminiscent of those of Stan Musial and Don Mattingly, Helton is an all-fields hitter with power who walks often and rarely strikes out. Through Sunday only seven batters in baseball who could qualify for the hitting lead—none of whom had more than 12 home runs—had been tougher to fan than Helton, who had 32 dingers while whining only once every 13.0 plate appearances. He had failed to make contact on only 9% of the pitches he had swung at this season. "It's like he's got radar in his bat" says Colorado reliever Gabe White, who joined the Rockies in April after a trade from the Cincinnati Reds. "He can swing at pitches that are real pitcher's pitches and still get the bat on the ball. He can foul it off and get to the pitch that he really wants to hit. He can hit .400. If he's done it this late into the season, he can do it."
Helton, too, has begun to believe. Until the series in Pittsburgh, he had dismissed talk of hitting .400 as "too early." Then before last Saturday's game, Helton was close enough to the summit to say blankly, "I mink it can be done." The .400 watch is beginning to build. Last Friday the Rockies arranged a news conference with Helton in the visitors' dugout at Three Rivers Stadium. Eight media members showed up, about 25 fewer than attended a press gathering for McGwire in the same stadium at a similar juncture in the 1998 season. Helton stood and answered questions politely but with the bored, glazed look of someone shaving. The press is in the process of discovering him.
"Can you sing Rocky Top?" one reporter asked Helton, a former University of Tennessee quarterback, referring to the Volunteers' fight song.
"I can but I won't," Helton retorted.
Later, after the group had dispersed, Helton said of the growing scrutiny, "It's August, and there's a lot of time left. I never thought I'd be doing this, so who knows what's going to happen? If I don't do it, it won't be because I was distracted."
Helton already has carried the chase longer than anybody else in 20 years. That alone says much about him and .400. "There's a reason nobody's done it since 1941," says Bell.
Hitting .400? It's hard as Helton.
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