Troy Tulowitzki Embraces Role as Face of Rockies' Franchise
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Jason Giambi spent five years sharing a Yankees clubhouse with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, who in some ways represented distinct parts of what would make the perfect baseball player. There was Jeter, a highly respected player who seemed born to lead, who always knew just the right thing to say and the right way to act. And there was Rodriguez, the perfect physical "toolbox," a player who could anything on the field.
If Giambi ever wondered what it might look like if you could fuse the two, he now thinks he has an idea. It's his spring training roommate: Troy Tulowitzki.
So far in Tulowitzki's young career, the Rockies' shortstop has shown extended periods of sheer brilliance, at the plate and in the field, interrupted by mysterious slumps (what happened in the first half of '08?) and injuries.
"I really want to see him play a whole year and not miss any time to see what he can do," said Giambi, who is now a pinch-hitter/savvy veteran/mentor. "I think you are looking at a 40-homer guy that hits over .300, drives in 130, as a shortstop. People are going to say 'Wow, the second coming of A-Rod.' He can do it all."
Except that Tulowitzki seems to also succeed where Rodriguez has failed. Tulowitzki wants to be The Man in the clubhouse and in the community, too.
"He's really tried to strive for that persona," Giambi said. "He's got all the tools, but he wants to be able to handle the team and be the face of an organization. He stepped to the forefront wanting to do it. It takes a special person to be that guy, because there is a lot of responsibility that goes with it."
The Rockies recognized all this over the winter when they signed the 26-year-old Tulowitzki to a six-year, $118-million extension. On top of his previous deal, the new contract will take Tulowitzki through 2020, with an option for 2021.
To Tulowitzki, the impact of the deal is not just the personal financial security it gives him, but the message that it sends.
"It gives you instant respect from other guys," he said. "They know that you committed yourself to be here for a little while, so you must believe in the team. It gives me an introduction to the young guys, to get to know them. Four or five years down the road I may be playing with some of these guys. You don't always have that. It's given me a lot of flexibility to do things."
Tulowitzki has always been one to spread his influence around the clubhouse, but now he's got a contract that tells every other player in the organization that they'd better listen when he talks.
"I'm already pretty vocal and I voice my opinion," he said. "I care about playing the game the right way and I care about winning. I'm just going to continue to stress that and not let anybody be satisfied. We expect ourselves to be in the playoffs every year."
Giambi said Tulowitzki "is a great guy to put as your organizational role model. You want guys to shoot for that. I want to be Troy Tulowitzki. I want to play like him. I want to take at-bats like him."
Tulowitzki quickly established himself as a talented player with leadership skills when he was a rookie in 2007. He helped carry the Rockies to that improbable "Rocktober" finish that swept them into the playoffs and eventually the World Series. The next season he got off to a terrible start, then he tore his quad and missed a couple months. Just when people may have wondered if he, individually, and the Rockies, collectively, had just played over their heads the year before, the pieces came back together in 2009.
Over the past two seasons, Tulowitzki hit .305 and he averaged 30 homers and 94 RBI. Last year he won his first Gold Glove award. The only hiccup was another six-week stint on the disabled list in the summer when he broke his wrist.
Not coincidentally, the Rockies slumped when Tulowitzki was out, and they jumped back in the race when he came back. In September, Tulowitzki had a ridiculous stretch in which he hit .394 with 14 homers in 16 games, and the Rockies won 13 of them.
"That's the stuff you dream about as a kid," Giambi said. "That's Little League stuff. He's hitting a homer every day."
Despite missing a chunk of the middle of the season, Tulowitzki finished fifth in the MVP voting for the second year in a row. Giambi figures better finishes are ahead.
"With the ability he has and the way he plays defense, he's got a chance to win a lot of MVPs," said Giambi, the 2000 MVP winner with the A's. "Give it to this kid. How can you not? Gold Glove. Hitting 30-40 homers. Hitting in the No. 4 hole. As a shortstop. It's pretty special. Pretty special."