Nobody has meant more to the Colorado Rockies on the baseball diamond than Todd Helton.

He holds most of the franchise records he is eligible for, some of them quite comfortably, and has more than earned the moniker “Mr. Rockie.”

But you could argue (and I’m about to) that he ought to share that title with Vinny Castilla.

Castilla played in 1,098 games for Colorado, fifth most all-time, and that is roughly where you will find him, on average, across most offensive statistics. 

He came up with Atlanta but was a member of the inaugural 1993 Rockies and despite the fact that he left a few times – and came back – it still feels like he has basically been a part of the team ever since.

He was a three-time Silver Slugger and two-time All-Star during the Blake Street Bomber days then returned at age 36 and lead the National League in RBI in 2004, even garnering some late MVP votes and coming in 23rd.

After brief stints in Washington and San Diego, Castilla returned home, to make sure that when he finally hung ‘em up for good, he was hanging up Rockies colors.

He only played in 15 games at age 38 in 2006 and that marked the end of his playing career. But it was nowhere near the end of his impact on the team. 

Officially retiring on February 7, 2007, he immediately became an assistant to then General Manager Dan O’Dowd preceding the most successful season in franchise history. He has remained with the team in some capacity ever since, becoming a staple in the clubhouse now on a near daily basis.

Castilla’s official job title with the club is “Special Assistant to the General Manager” but that hardly encapsulates the entirety of what he does, and has done, for the on-and-off-the-field culture of this team.

So I asked manager Bud Black what an unofficial job title might be for Castilla.

“Vinny represents us well, in whatever it is. From January 1 to December 31, Vinny will represent our organization very proudly,” he said. “I think he’s done a lot of things I don’t even know about during the course of the season.” 

How about, The Ambassador?

“What he does with kids, with camps, with clinics, and going to schools,” Black continued, “You add on top of that Winter Ball, WBC stuff, Spring Training with us? He’s a guy that I think integrates so well and does it with a charismatic flair and that smile that I think is endearing to those people around him.”

This particular praise is mirrored in everyone you talk to, especially the young players.

As part of our “5 Quick Questions” series, I asked rookie Nolan Jones who he thinks of first when he thinks of the purple-pinstriped team located in Denver, Colorado, and perhaps with a bit of recency bias, opted to choose his current mentor.”

“I get to see him, talk to him, it’s such a cool experience,” he said, echoing sentiments I felt when I first began covering this team. 

“Being able to get to learn from him is the best,” Jones continued. “I made an error yesterday and he was right there to cheer me up and tell me ‘hey you’re good, relax, have fun, play the game, it’s the same game.’ Having guys like that around that have been through it and understand what I’m feeling in that moment, it’s awesome.”

Black sees this as a particularly helpful, and incredibly difficult to measure, aspect of what Castilla brings to the team.

“Sitting in the clubhouse with German, with Senzatela, and Rodgers and McMahon and Tovar, with those young guys, he very easily crosses generations. He’s just one of the guys. Vinny can come into my office and talk to a 66 year-old and he’s able to go into the clubhouse and talk to anyone. And be great at it.”

Even the best of advanced metric statisticians have yet to produce a number that can measure Wise Sage Guru Magic Above Replacement. There is a school of thought that suggests anything that can’t be measured on the field, isn’t really worth discussing. It’s certainly hard to argue that having Castilla around has prevented the ball team from going through more than their fair share of struggles.

But how much darker might the dark times have been without his smile? How much briefer the bright times without his guidance? 

It’s hard to say.

On the field, Black remembers a fearsome hitter.

“Dangerous power. I felt if I could get the ball down and away from Vinny I had a pretty good shot but if I made a mistake…”

Punishing those mistakes is why he remains in third place on the Rockies all-time home run list.

Off the field, we cannot know for sure, but it would absolutely be a mistake to conclude that Castilla’s value to the Rockies can be measured by statistics.

Other players you might consider for this club’s “Mt. Rushmore” include of course Helton, Larry Walker, Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado. 

Quite frankly, each of those ballplayers produced more in a Rockies uniform than Castilla did and most can make the argument of being more talented.

But none of them even come close to giving as much to the team in their post-playing days as he has. 

Bud Black put it another way: “Vinny is a good one,” he says. “You’ll hear me say a lot ‘that guy is a good Rockie,’ well he’s a great Rockie.”

Maybe, when you take it all into consideration, the greatest?

On Friday, April 9, 1993, the Rockies played the third game in the history of the franchise, and the first MLB game in Denver, at Mile High Stadium. Castilla made his Rockies debut.

He subbed in at shortstop for Freddie Benavides and grounded out to short in his only plate appearance of the game.

From that moment to this one, he has been a part of the DNA. Nine years playing, 16 as an advisor. That’s a quarter century spent in that uniform.

Whether it was mashing homers in his heyday, returning for one last hurrah, or passing on his wisdom to the next generation, the legacy of the Colorado Rockies cannot be separated from the legend of Vinny Castilla.