DENVER -- Mike Matheny spent eight seasons as a catcher in the National League, earning him a front row seat to watch Rockies first baseman Todd Helton in his prime.

So when Helton first announced on Saturday that he was retiring at season's end, Matheny knew just the caliber of player that was leaving the game.

"I've seen him have some really good days against us," said Matheny, now the Cardinals manager, before Monday's game against the Rockies at Coors Field. "Pretty frustrating trying to get him out for quite a few years. But he's had a great career, has been a great Rockie and I know that he's put up some pretty incredible numbers over the years that he's been able to wear this uniform."

Matheny, who spent five years with the Cardinals, said Helton fell into the same category as Astros stars Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. Though he didn't know Helton personally, he said the 17-year veteran built a strong reputation for an impeccable work ethic, one that's helped him to 2,506 hits and a .317 career batting average after going 1-for-4 in Monday's 6-2 win over the Cardinals.

Nearly as impressive as Helton's offensive talent was his ability to foul off even the toughest of pitches, his at-bats sometimes climbing into double-digit pitch counts.

"What I noticed as a catcher was just athleticism and bat speed," Matheny said. "Big load that didn't normally go with good speed and it would result in tough at-bats where he was able to fight off pitches.

"Just an incredible athlete and able to do this for a long time."