Rockies have caught Tulowitzki's winning attitude
Posted: Saturday October 27, 2007 4:58PM; Updated: Saturday October 27, 2007 4:58PM
It may seem that the moment the Colorado Rockies' season turned into a scene out of Rocky ? on the verge of being knocked out, only to get up and come out swinging ? was Todd Helton's walk-off home run against the Dodgers in the second game of a doubleheader on Sept. 18. After all, that swing catapulted Colorado to its third straight win in what became a 21-of-22 victory run that landed the Rockies ? the Rockies! ? in the World Series.
But as exciting as the Rockies' month-long tear has been, what really may have saved their season was a comment from a 22-year-old rookie shortstop with a .258 batting average and all of 60 games of big league experience. It was a resume that barely entitled him to go first in the postgame buffet, much less gave him the right to speak out about his team's poor start. But then Troy Tulowitzki has always been a leader, and that has as much to do with the fact that there will be a World Series game in Denver on Saturday night as his Rookie of the Year-caliber statistics.
The turning point may have come in Arizona in late May. Steaming from yet another loss that dropped Colorado to 18-27 and deeper into last place in the NL West, Tulowitzki called his team's play "disturbing." For Tulowitzki, who had never been on a losing team in his entire life, it was unacceptable.
The rookie shortstop sent a message to his older teammates, many of whom had endured six straight losing seasons in Denver's thin air. The only thing running thin for Tulowitzki was his patience. "As soon as I found out I was on the team [in spring training], I expected to win," he said. "I didn't expect to lose at all, I'll be the first one to admit that. I knew we had a good team and I expected us to win from day one."
"I was walking through the clubhouse and I heard the comment 'Enough is enough'. I expected it to be a 35-year-old guy with 10 years of experience and it's the kid over here," said Rockies manager Clint Hurdle. "He helped a lot of guys that didn't have an edge to get an edge and some guys that had an edge to have a bigger edge."
Coincidence or not, the Rockies followed Tulowitzki's comments by winning seven straight, their longest streak of the year until their September surge. Having rejoined the playoff chase, the team remained in contention the rest of the season.
The fact that it was Tulowitzki who spoke up came as little surprise to those who knew him. His competitive fire burned so brightly as a youth that he was moved up a level in Little League so he could compete with older kids, and in college that he had to go see a sports psychologist. Drafted seventh overall out of Long Beach State in 2005, Tulowitzki had the shortest minor league stay of any position player in Rockies history. In spring training this year he beat out Clint Barmes for the starting shortstop position and was voted team MVP.
It's an honor he could well receive for the regular season, too. While teammate Matt Holliday posted Mile High numbers, Tulowitzki's rookie season was so astounding with both the bat and the glove, and his leadership so vital, that he was in many ways, the Rockies' oxygen mask as they scaled peaks higher than any reached in the team's 15-year lifespan.
Hurdle has praised Tulowitzki for having a "stomach full of intangibles" but he has much more than that. He has a name that was made to be chanted and a game that was made to be loved. He finished his rookie season hitting .291 with a NL-rookie record 24 home runs and 99 RBIs. He played his best ball down the stretch, too, finishing with 12 home runs and 51 RBIs in August and September.
But it is Tulowitzki's defense that has made heads turn and jaws drop. He covers more ground than a lawnmower, and his arm is fearsome in its power and devastating in its accuracy. On April 29, he completed just the third unassisted triple play in major league history, the signature moment in what may have been the greatest defensive performance by a rookie shortstop in baseball history. In spring training, Tulowitzki approached the team's staff to ask about their pitch sequences, so he'd be able to better position himself at short.
The hard work should result in his becoming the first rookie shortstop to win a Gold Glove. At year's end, Tulowitzki led the majors in fielding percentage (.987), chances (834), putouts (262), assists (561), double plays (114), and eye-popping brilliance. For a player who grew up idolizing Gold Glove winners like Cal Ripken and Derek Jeter (Tulowitzki wears No. 2 as an homage to the Yankee shortstop), his outstanding glove work was no accident. "As a kid, I was always on the field trying to do things that the other kids had never seen before, whether that's spinning and throwing or jumping and throwing," he said. "I always wanted to be an exciting player and do things that people thought were special on the field."
With his team in the World Series and his star on the rise, there can be no doubt that Tulowitzki has done just that.