Veterans Clark, Helton enjoying ride

Veterans Clark, Helton enjoying ride

PHOENIX -- The dozen Arizona Diamondbacks who haven't seen their 26th birthday yet are busy in the Chase Field clubhouse on the eve of what will be their first National League Championship Series.

They are in many ways what you'd expect from a typical bunch of talented twentysomethings, excited to be here and looking forward to trying to make it to the World Series. This collection of first-round Draft picks and highly touted youngsters are the key reason the Diamondbacks are here, just as Colorado's kids are a big reason the Rockies find themselves in their first NLCS.

The youth movement in Arizona and Colorado clearly came of age in 2007, and two players who couldn't be happier about it are a couple of veteran first basemen and former first-round Draft picks, Arizona's Tony Clark and Colorado's Todd Helton.

Clark, 35, came to the Diamondbacks three years ago after spending the 2004 season with the New York Yankees. He is one of just four Diamondbacks on the active roster with postseason experience. And he's watched this team grow during the last three years and blossom this season.

"You're simply hopeful that it's sooner rather than later; conventional wisdom would suggest that it would be later," Clark said. "But we were hopeful that with the commitment that we were making to each other and the organization was making to them that we could find a way to simply shorten the window and hope that it was sooner rather than later and give us an opportunity to move forward."

The younger Diamondbacks credit Clark with helping the process along.

"[He's meant] so much, not just on the field," said Arizona center fielder Chris Young, 24. "Obviously, he's produced great things for us with his bat this year in clutch situations and with his amazing defense. But off the field, he's our mentor, he's the leader in the clubhouse by far, he's the guy you go to if you have any kind of problems on the field or off the field."

Clark, whose on-the-field contributions included a .249 batting average with 17 homers and 51 RBIs in just 221 at-bats this season, has been there when the young players needed his counsel.

"I am always more concerned with the person that I am rather than the player," Clark said. "Your baseball career is unbelievably short. Trying to make a difference in a young person's life with respect to being a husband, being a father, being a man is more what I'm concerned about than whether or not he can hit a slider.

"I'd like to think that I offer something there, seeing as I am married with three kids and have kind of been there and done that and most of these guys are 24 or 25 and haven't done those things yet, so to offer some perspective, I'm hoping that for him to say that, it shows his ears are open, and I'm thankful for that opportunity."

complete coverage
Home  |  News  |  Multimedia  |  Photos

There is a good chance Clark may be more than just a mentor in this series as Clark excelled against the Rockies this year, tallying four home runs and 13 RBIs in 31 at-bats.

Down the hallway in the visitors' clubhouse, the 34-year-old Helton is enjoying the first postseason of his 10-year career in a similar room full of youngsters sometimes referred to as "Todd's Toddlers."

"One of the best things about [Colorado's run] is it got him to the playoffs," said Rockies left fielder Matt Holliday, 27. "He deserves this; he's worked hard for this."

Helton clearly is enjoying his first NLCS, but is loathe to talk about his accomplishments.

"This has been a team achievement," the five-time All-Star said. "Everybody in this room did their part. We've had a lot of great young players come through and it's been fun to be a part of it."

And yet no one has done more for the franchise than Helton, whose 1,578 career games were the third most by an active player without a playoff appearance until last week, when the Rockies came from behind to beat San Diego in 13 innings in the tiebreaker game.

The only active players who had gone longer without a postseason appearance were Arizona's Jeff Cirillo, who was on the Diamondbacks' NLDS roster to end his string at 1,617 career games, and infielder Damion Easley of the New York Mets (1,593).

Don't be surprised if Helton also sees some key at-bats against the D-backs as he was 4-for-4 this year against Jose Valverde and for his career is 6-for-9 against the D-backs closer. Those six hits include a double and a home run. He also has been walked three times by Valverde.

Helton is pleased that his October-less streak is at an end and now he's enjoying helping Colorado's younger generation try to reach the Fall Classic.

"The game brings out the kid in you," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's a guy that pretty much punched the clock and was stoic, and he was more of a gladiator mentality 98 percent of the time, the last 2 percent coming in the last, what, week?

"It has been extremely joyful to watch his emotion come out the way he's been able to embrace the finish of the season and embrace the tiebreaking game, embrace the first round of the playoffs. As much as anything, there's a big part of this team and a big heartbeat going to push him into the World Series. I mean, that's a big want-to for all the men in there. And I think there's a lot of men that have been in the Rockies uniform in the past that are pulling for Todd Helton to get in the World Series, just by the way he's gone about his work, the job that he's done and the way he's played the game."

The same could be said for Clark, who leads Arizona's rising stars by example both on and off the field.

"He's become a great friend of mine and you couldn't ask for any more from a guy like that," Young said.

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.