Rockies’ Tulowitzki epitomizes pure shortstop |

Rockies’ Tulowitzki epitomizes pure shortstop

Troy E. Renck
The Denver Post
Colorado Rockies Troy Tulowitzki in Spring Training at Hi Crobett Field in Tucson, AZ on Tuesday. Hyoung Chang/ The Denver Post DO NOT USE THESE IN REGULAR SECTION!!!!!!!

TUCSON – Some kids want to be firefighters when they grow up. Or doctors. Or cowboys. Troy Tulowitzki wanted to be a big-league shortstop. He can’t remember playing another position. In T-ball, he was in the six hole. In Little League, he appeared on ESPN, anchoring the middle of the infield. In high school and later at Long Beach State, he never thought of moving.

He kept baseball cards of Nomar Garciaparra in his back pocket during games. He wears jersey No. 2 to honor Derek Jeter. His pet boxer, tall, lean and strong, is named Ripken.

Tulowitzki is a shortstop. It’s who he is, what he does, his business card in life.

“I have always wanted to play the position, and I always wanted to stay there,” Tulowitzki said. “A lot of people thought I would get too big and have to move to third base. I have worked extra hard to keep that from happening. I always knew in my mind that I would have the most value for a team as a shortstop.”

As the Rockies await the launch of their 18th season Monday in Milwaukee – the most anticipated since their hatching in 1993 – they have become a sexy pick to win the National League West, which they’ve never done. One ESPN baseball writer predicted they would win the World Series.

The root of these expectations can be traced to Tulowitzki and, of course, his position. Entering his fourth full big-league season, he’s already the best shortstop the Rockies have ever employed. He finished fifth in National League MVP voting last year. In two of his three big-league seasons, the Rockies have reached the playoffs.

They made the playoffs one time before Tulo joined the team. Yeah, it’s probably just a coincidence.

“He’s one of those young men that we knew we had something when he arrived in the big leagues,” said Cy Young Award winner Orel Hershiser, now a broadcaster. “He’s continued to grow as a player and into a leader. When you can emotionally lead a team when you are struggling and still impact the game the way he does, that’s special.”

Championship teams don’t require a Hall of Famer at shortstop, but it helps. Shortstop is baseball’s equivalent of the point guard or the quarterback. A team with a great shortstop can camouflage many weaknesses.

Tulowitzki, 25, credits Cal Ripken Jr. for steering him toward the middle of the diamond. Ripken revolutionized the position, showing that a bigger athlete can play somewhere besides the corners. Beginning in 1982, Ripken changed how the industry views shortstop. Once a spot for “Scooters,” “Pee Wees” and “Wizards” – light-hitting defensive stars – executives now look for offense there, when possible.

That trend began in earnest with Alex Rodriguez and continued through Jeter, Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada. Their emergence inspired Tulowitzki, fueled his rocket ride from a 2005 first-round draft choice to a 2007 World Series appearance. But look around. There aren’t many others like him.

That revolution has been deep-sixed. Guys such as Florida’s Hanley Ramirez and Tulowitzki are aberrations. There’s a reason the Rockies gave Tulo a seven-year, $31 million contract after his rookie season.

“We are blessed to have him,” general manager Dan O’Dowd said.

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