DENVER (AP) – Peyton Manning felt right at home with Todd Helton and the Colorado Rockies.
Manning dropped by Coors Field on Sunday morning to visit his pal before the Rockies played the New York Mets.
Manning and Helton were quarterbacks at the University of Tennessee in the mid-1990s. Manning recently signed with the Denver Broncos to become their new QB.
When Manning was going through his rehabilitation from neck surgery during the NFL lockout, Helton helped arrange for him to use the Rockies’ facilities to work out.
Manning thanked Helton and the Rockies for their hospitality and generosity. Manning said that when he left the Indianapolis Colts, became a free agent and was deciding on a new team, he already knew Denver was a great sports town.
“He’s a great friend. What he did for me last year, allowing me to use this facility, use the trainers to work out as part of my rehab process,” Manning said. “I’ve come a long way in a year. They were a big part of it. The whole Rockies organization, I can’t thank them enough for opening their doors to me last year when I certainly was an outsider. I’ll always be indebted to them.”
Manning said he even had a locker now occupied by Rockies right fielder Michael Cuddyer.
“I needed a place to work out during the lockout. I was here a couple of different times, and I was here continuously. I didn’t travel with them,” he joked. “Cuddyer’s using my locker. He didn’t ask my permission.”
Manning and Helton became friends at Tennessee. Manning overtook Helton as the Volunteers’ No. 1 quarterback and eventually was the overall top draft pick by the Colts. He took the Colts to the Super Bowl twice, winning once.
The four-time NFL MVP missed the entire 2011 season after his fourth neck surgery and was released by the team in early March. After a short courtship with several NFL teams, he signed a five-year deal with Denver last month.
Manning has been a frequent visitor to Coors Field over the years. He has hit a couple of home runs in batting practice and has fielded grounders at his old position of shortstop.
“Actually, every time I’ve been here with Todd, as much as I like taking BP, I actually enjoy taking groundballs,” he said. “I miss that about baseball more than anything.
“Eight, nine years ago the third base coach was hitting ground balls to me, by myself, and he was like, ‘Why am I hitting ground balls to Manning?’ I love everything about baseball. It’s such a different mentality than football, so many more games, a different atmosphere, I’ve always been a fan of it. Having a connection through Todd has made it very special for me,” he said.
Over the years, Manning also felt at ease in Denver.
“I’ve spent a lot of time here so I knew how great of a city it was and what a great sports town it was. Todd didn’t have to make a hard, hard sell, but it’s nice to have friends here like Todd, John Lynch and (Brandon) Stokely.”
Along with seeing Helton on Sunday, Manning also watched and filmed new Broncos teammate Eric Decker take some batting practice.
Manning also is friends with Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey, who took him into the New York clubhouse before the game. Third baseman David Wright greeted him wearing a sombrero and a fake mustache, and 6-foot-11 reliever Jon Rauch nearly put the quarterback on the shelf with his grip.
“It caught me off-guard,” Manning said. “Rauch almost broke my hand shaking hands with him.”
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