Originally created 02/26/03

Helms doesn't look back



PHOENIX -- Wes Helms doesn't like talking about his time in Atlanta, and not because he was buried on the bench for the talent-laden Braves.

He isn't upset about going from a perennial playoff participant that has won 11 straight division titles to Milwaukee, a team that hasn't had a winning season in 11 years.

"I think a lot of guys have to be on a winning team, but this is what motivates me," Helms said. "A challenge."

And this one's a doozy.

Helms is being counted on to become the Brewers' first established third baseman since Jeff Cirillo in the late 1990s and to help turn around a franchise that hasn't been to the playoffs since 1982.

"I don't have to been in the best atmosphere to be motivated," Helms said. "I could be put on the bottom of the earth and I'll be motivated to get back to the top."

Which is basically what's happening to him. The Brewers lost a team-record 106 games last year.

Helms, behind such veterans in Atlanta as Chipper Jones at third and Julio Franco at first, sees this as the opportunity of a lifetime. And that's why he's not looking back at his time in Atlanta, where he hit 17 homers in 444 at-bats in 198 games over three-plus seasons.

"When I got traded, I did not talk to one reporter in Atlanta," Helms said. "A few of them called me. But when I came to Milwaukee, I didn't want to have anything to do with the Braves.

"I loved it there. They never did one thing wrong to me," he added. "It's just that my total heart is in Milwaukee. They're my enemy now."

And he doesn't even plan on friendly chitchat with his former teammates when the Brewers visit Atlanta in April.

"I'll say, 'What's up?' But there's no friendship on the other team when I take the field," Helms said. "If you're at second base and you're my best friend, I'm going to take you for a flip. That's the way I play the game."

And that's one reason the Brewers wanted Helms when the Braves called about left-handed reliever Ray King last winter.

The other is that with slick-fielding but light-hitting Royce Clayton replacing Jose Hernandez at shortstop following the departures of Matt Stairs and Tyler Houston, the Brewers sorely needed some more punch in their lineup.

"So, we thought we could upgrade with someone who had power potential, a young player with some upside," general manager Doug Melvin said. "He's a prototypical third baseman who you hope can hit you home runs in the 20s."

The Brewers are hoping the short gaps at Miller Park play into Helms' flyball tendencies.

The one area Melvin said that needs work in Helms' game is his pitch selection.

That will come with time, said manager Ned Yost, who was on Atlanta's coaching staff and encouraged Melvin to trade for Helms.

"It's hard to hit off coaches all the time and then get thrown into the fire of a 90 mph fastball," Yost said. "When he gets in there and gets to relax, the consistency of getting to play every day will help him out."

Being a power hitter and not a quick, slap swinger meant that Helms never could get into a good rhythm at the plate in Atlanta. But he never was one to complain to the coaches or lobby for more playing time.

"I was just happy to be in the big leagues and when I got traded over here, I was tickled to death," Helms said. "Whereas a lot of people would have been like, 'Man, you're going from a winning team to a team that lost 106 games."'

Helms isn't only excited about becoming an everyday player. He's looking forward to working out at just one position.

Before games with the Braves, Helms would take batting practice with his group then take groundballs at third and first and fly balls in right while the other three groups took their turns in the cage.

"So, my BPs were like spring training every day to get ready," he said. "I can't say it got old because it is fun just to be up here. But not knowing your role is hard.

"This year, I know my role. It eases my mind."