Rookie Troy Tulowitzki is Colorado’s catalyst
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER ” Troy Tulowitzki could be collecting some serious hardware soon: the NL Rookie of the Year award, a Gold Glove, maybe even a World Series ring.
Yet, when the Colorado Rookies’ 21-year-old star shortstop meets fellow major leaguers, he’s just like any other wide-eyed youngster coming face-to-face with a childhood hero: he wants an autograph.
“I probably have 20 or 30 in my locker,” Tulowitzki said. “But when it’s a player that I really respect, I usually get a bat.”
So, Derek Jeter’s signed bat is hanging on the wall of his loft in downtown Denver next to Nomar Garciaparra’s.
Actually, Tulowitzki had to get Garciaparra to send a replacement bat because the Los Angeles Dodgers infielder misspelled his name when Tulowitzki sought out his signature after reaching the majors last season after just 126 games in the minors.
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It wasn’t his tricky last name, either.
“He put ‘Tony,'” Tulowitzki said. “And he felt really bad about that. So, every time I see him, he says sorry and sends more bats over all the time. It’s kind of funny, but I think it’s gotten us a little closer.”
Clutch hits and sparkling defense quickly made Tulowitzki a household name this season.
He turned the 11th unassisted triple play in major league history, hit .291 with 24 homers and 99 RBIs and led all major league shortstops in fielding percentage, total chances, assists, putouts and double plays.
His 24 home runs were the most ever by an NL rookie shortstop and second only to the 30 Garciaparra hit for Boston in 1997. No other rookie shortstop in the last half-century drove in as many runs as Tulowitzki.
He also came up big in the biggest of situations, collecting four hits in the Rockies’ 9-8, 13-inning win over San Diego in the NL wild-card tiebreaker.
Although he went just 2-for-12 in Colorado’s sweep of Philadelphia in the NL Division Series, Tulowitzki’s homer in Game 2, great glove work, strong arm and calming influence helped the Rockies advance to the NLCS against Arizona beginning Thursday night.
“I look at Tulo, he doesn’t know better,” said slugger Todd Helton, who needed nearly 1,500 more major league games to reach the postseason than Tulowitzki. “He’s done unbelievably good all year in big-game situations. He did it again in the playoffs.”
Manager Clint Hurdle, who missed Monday’s workout with the flu, has called Tulowitzki the catalyst for the Rockies’ spectacular season, which included a franchise-best 90 wins, its first playoff berth since 1995 and its first postseason series win in the club’s 15-year history.
And third Baseman Garrett Atkins gave Tulowitzki the ultimate compliment: “Playing with him,” he said, “made all of us better players.
“You can’t teach what he has inside of him, and it’s just been a pleasure for all of us to be a part of it.”
Reliever Matt Herges, with his seventh major league team, added: “There’s nobody that I played with that has that kind of body, that kind of power, that kind of range and that kind of arm. He’s in the same mold of a Nomar, A-Rod or Jeter.”
Guys that need to go by just one name. So, Tulo.
It didn’t start out that spectacular. In fact, Tulowitzki struggled so much in the first few weeks that Hurdle benched him for three games in late April.
Tulowitzki said he kept his head up thanks to guys like Helton and Matt Holliday telling him they had been through something similar early in their careers.
“It made me realize it happens to some of the best players, and it made me feel better,” said Tulowitzki, who hit the batting cage with a dogged determination.
“It made me realize that maybe I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. And it made me realize I needed to get better. I went in the cage, worked hard, still played my solid defense, went out every day, took my ground balls. It wakes you up a little bit, and it’s just another reminder that the game’s not easy.”
Upon Tulowitzki’s return, he was bumped from the seventh spot in the batting order to second, where he began getting better looks at pitches, moving runners over, hitting to the opposite field.
“He became a hitter,” Hurdle said.
Fame soon followed.
Tulowitzki lives in the same building as NBA star Allen Iverson, whose autograph he quickly obtained.
“I met him at the beginning of the season when he was probably saying the same thing: this guy’s not very good,'” Tulowitzki said. “But things have changed a little bit. Now he wants tickets.”
Iverson, who joined the Denver Nuggets from Philadelphia last December, said Tulo has turned him into a Rockies fan.
“I didn’t know how good he was. I had never heard of him before,” Iverson said. “And now I’m rooting for him.”