Doing it the right way: Helling reflects on career, grateful for Hall callRick Helling’s career numbers as a big league pitcher stand up just fine by themselves. But factor in the era in which he pitched and the ballpark he did it in, his 93 wins and 1,058 career strikeouts take on even greater significance.
By: By Dave Selvig, The Jamestown Sun, The Jamestown Sun
Rick Helling’s career numbers as a big league pitcher stand up just fine by themselves.
But factor in the era in which he pitched and the ballpark he did it in, his 93 wins and 1,058 career strikeouts take on even greater significance.
The Lakota, N.D., native, who went from a full-ride football scholarship at UND as an 18-year-old to a first-round pick by the Texas Rangers at 21 out of Stanford University, is part of a star-studded trio heading into the North Dakota Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Helling, fellow former major leaguer Darin Erstad and famed boys basketball coach Ed Beyer will be inducted into the Hall of Fame Saturday night at the Jamestown Civic Center. The social, which includes a silent auction, begins at 5:30 p.m., with the induction ceremony set for 7.
“It’s not like California or Texas that have so many athletes, but it’s definitely a big deal. Everyone who knows me knows how proud I am to be from North Dakota,” Helling said. “It’s nothing I ever expected, but I’m definitely humbled and grateful.”
The induction of Helling and Erstad together seems appropriate. Both were far more than just baseball players. Helling, like Erstad, was a three-sport star at Lakota before graduating from Fargo Shanley.
He received a scholarship to play football at UND, but prior to his freshman season in Grand Forks he helped the Fargo Post 2 American Legion baseball team to the World Series where he became a hot commodity in scouting circles. He red-shirted his one season in Grand Forks, but was still being tugged by scouts and teammates to stick with baseball.
So after much consideration he transferred to a community college in Illinois and had more success, which led to being recruited by Stanford.
His grades were “good enough to get in,” to the academically renowned university and after a strong season for Stanford in 1992 he was drafted by the Rangers in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft.
“I went from being a nobody literally, to in a couple of years I’m at Stanford, then pitching on the Olympic team (1992) to being a first-round pick,” Helling said. “There was a lot of hard work in there obviously, but I was fortunate too. For whatever reason things fell into place.”
Not blessed with great stuff like Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and other greats of his era, Helling was a true pitcher. His 93-81 career record included a 20-7 mark in 1998. He was also a two-time World Series champion. He did not finish the season with the Florida Marlins when they won in 1997, he was traded to Texas in the middle of the season, but was still awarded a championship ring. He was back with the Marlins in 2003 when they beat the New York Yankees.
He pitched the majority of his career at hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, but more significantly he refused to succumb to the pressure many did during the steroid era.
“I have people ask me all the time, do you wish would have tried (steroids), but that’s just not what I was about,” Helling said. “There are people in all walks of life that take shortcuts and cheat and you’re never going to stop people from doing that. The sad thing about the steroid era is how many guys did it because they felt they had to.
“I left the game with my reputation intact. Everybody that knows me or competed against me knows I did it the right way.”
Today, Helling coaches his son’s football and baseball teams. He retired in 2007 and lives with his family in Excelsior, Minn.
He remains active in baseball, too. In 2009 he was hired by MLB Players union boss Don Fehr as a special assistant and continues in that role now with current executive director Michael Weiner. He said baseball has done a good job of cleaning up the sport.
“It’s night and day,” he said. “Are there always going to be guys looking for a shortcut? Sure. But the testing that is in place now has cleaned up the game immensely.
“Clearly it was the right thing to do. Professional athletes are role models. If we’re not setting the right tone, doing things the right way, then what good are we?”
Helling is honored to share the induction with Erstad and Beyer, and has deep ties to both. His Lakota High School basketball teams could never get over the hump against Beyer’s Hillsboro Burros back in the day, while his match-ups with Erstad go back to when the Jamestown native was a 16-year-old on the Legion Eagles baseball team and Helling was with Fargo Post 2. They went on to face each other 37 times in the majors.
“You’re talking about two great guys in Ed and Darin and both are very deserving,” Helling said. “It’s interesting to look back on my career and how everything panned out. It will be a lot of fun to shoot the breeze with Darin and everybody else in Jamestown. It should be a great time.”
Sun sports editor Dave Selvig can be reached at (701) 952-8460 or by e-mail at email@example.com