Helton plans quick recovery

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – Todd Helton does not do injuries, illness or the DL very well.

So, his plan, even after he was so sick he could barely muster the energy to take a shower two weeks ago, was simply to crawl back in bed and sleep it off.

“At that point, I would have just laid there,” the Colorado Rockies first baseman said Tuesday, as he prepared for the first game of his rehab assignment in Colorado Springs. “I’m lucky my wife was smart enough.”

She took him to the hospital and after a few harrowing days of high fever and intense pain during which doctors weren’t sure what was wrong, Helton was diagnosed with acute terminal ileitis – a painful inflammation of the small intestine. He spent three nights in the hospital.

Scary – at least to those close to him.

“When it happens to you it’s not that scary,” Helton said. “I was all drugged up, so I didn’t really know what was going on.”

Nobody has told him how he got the illness or whether it will come back. Despite the uncertainty, he was back on the field, 15 pounds lighter than normal, and wearing the black and green of the triple-A Sky Sox instead of the silver and purple of the parent Rockies.

“I probably didn’t take care of myself as well as I should,” Helton said. “It’s just an infection. Things like that happen. Now, I’ve got to change a few things so I can feel better in the future. But they really didn’t give me a specific reason” he got sick.

Among the things he’ll change: Less alcohol and chewing tobacco. He’ll probably watch his diet a bit more closely, too.

“It’s scary anytime you go to a hospital and they don’t know what’s wrong with you,” Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins said from Atlanta, where Colorado played the Braves. Atkins also had the illness two years ago.

Helton is scheduled for two days of rehab in Colorado Springs. On Friday, his stint on the 15-day disabled list – only his second stay on the DL in a nine-year career – will come to an end. He wants to be on the field Friday, when the Rockies play Houston at Coors Field, although it’s still unsure whether he’ll be in the lineup. “We’ve got steps to take before that,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Five innings tonight, seven innings tomorrow.”

Oddly enough, the Rockies are proving – for pretty much the first time this decade – that they may not have to depend solely on Helton, who came into the season as their only recognizable star.

They entered Tuesday night’s play at 15-11, in first place in the NL West. They got out of April at five games above .500 for the first time since 1997.

“Unbelievable,” Helton calls it. “It’s been so much fun to watch. Not only the winning, but the way they’re winning, too.”

What Helton really wants, though, is to be part of the winning.

He “struggled” through 2005, batting .320 and hitting 20 homers, both a good percentage below his usual totals. The season began with unsubstantiated accusations by a former Rockies radio announcer that he did steroids, continued through months of nagging back pain that he kept quiet and ended with him making his first trip to the DL, a move he fought, but eventually had to make.

The always-present question for the lifetime .337 hitter was whether he wanted to be traded – if he felt he was wasting his talent with a franchise that was showing very few signs of progress. He insisted he wanted to remain with the Rockies, where it figures he’ll always be their biggest star.

“It was a situation where you’re taking your franchise, marquee name out of your lineup,” reliever Ray King said of the obvious impact of missing Helton, whose salary accounts for more than 40 percent of the team’s $41.1 million payroll.

About two weeks after his big scare, Helton says he still feels a bit weak, but not bad enough to prevent him from playing nine innings for the Rockies come the weekend.

“It’s first base, not middle linebacker,” he said. “I walk 15 feet out there, catch a ball, run to second. I’ll be gassed, but I’ve been gassed forever.”

AP-ES-05-02-06 2008EDT

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