If you watched the World Series this fall, you saw a player named Rick Helling pitching for the winning team, the Florida Marlins. Rick grew up in Lakota, and today is his birthday.
Immediately after high school, Rick pursued football, not baseball. He was playing for UND when an old Legion baseball teammate started talking to him about the Illinois school he was attending, Kishwaukee College. Kishwaukee had a strong baseball team, and he thought Helling would fit right in. “He kept calling me saying that I needed to go there,” Helling later said, “that there were scouts everywhere and this and that. The more I thought about it, I finally thought that I would have a better career in baseball. It worked out well for me.”
Helling transferred to KC in 1990, pitched for the team, and broke a lot of records, some of which still stand today. He said, “Obviously we had a really good baseball team. It helped me move onto bigger and better things.”
Helling next transferred to Stanford and then was recruited to play for Team USA, which took a bronze medal in the Pan Am Games. This allowed the team to compete in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. During the semi-final, USA was up against their arch nemesis, Cuba. Helling mowed down one hitter after another, but unfortunately, the Cuban pitching was exceptional that day, and the Cubans won the game. USA then lost to Japan and went home without a medal.
On June 1st, 1992, Helling was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 1st round. In 1996, he was traded to the Florida Marlins and then went back to the Rangers the following year. In 1998, Rick Helling, Roger Clemens, David Cone and Tom Glavine tied for the major league lead in wins. Pretty good company. He also had career-highs for wins, starts, innings, strikeouts, complete games and shutouts.
In 2002, Helling moved to the Arizona Diamondbacks as a free agent, pitching behind perennial All-Stars, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling.
“Randy Johnson is 6' 10" with filthy stuff,” Helling said. “I’m 6-3 with average to slightly above average stuff. But he’s ridiculous. There are few pitchers like Randy and Curt who can go out there and dominate the game.”
This past spring, Helling signed on with the Baltimore Orioles, who didn’t fare all that well during the season. Towards the end of the year, when it was obvious the team was going nowhere, the Orioles let him go to make room for a younger player. At the time, one of his old teams, the Florida Marlins were battling for a National League wildcard playoff spot, and signed Rick for his experience, leadership and powerful right arm to come out of the bullpen. For the first time in his major league career, Rick became a relief pitcher and did very well, finishing up the regular season by allowing just one run in 16 and 1/3 innings out of the bull pen. Of course the Marlins won that first round series, the National League Championship series and went on to defeat the favored New York Yankees in 6 games in the 2003 World Series.
So after being cut by the lowly O’s, Rick Helling went on to pitch in two world series games while earning a world series paycheck and world series ring. Ain’t it funny how things work out sometimes?
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm