From our armchairs, we as fans can get frustrated. Many of us will watch a baseball game and see a pitcher walk the bases loaded. Perhaps we’ll see one of a handful of “all glove, no hit” shortstops scraping by with a .250-ish batting average come up to bat with the bases loaded. We might, in not-so-polite words, call them something similar to a “scrub”, lament that our team “always loses because of guys like these”, then curse their contract, the front office, the manager or the baseball gods.
Lest we forget that the guy who is “scraping by” spent their entire lives at the ball field, away from their friends and families and children, to be one of the 700 best people on the planet at a game. Their late high school afternoons and early college mornings spent not as often at a party or at a coffee shop, but in the batting cage, doing fielding drills or in the weight room might result in nothing more than the honor of becoming the first strikeout victim of a future Hall of Famer.
We also forget that there are tens of thousands of ballplayers who don’t even earn the cup of coffee that even the briefest major leaguer savors a sip of. According to a 2013 report by Sports Interaction posted on USAToday, only 0.6% of American high school players and 11.6% of college players ever make the major leagues. For those lucky enough to stick, the average major league career is just 5.6 years long. Some of us have spent longer trying to graduate from college.
Baseball is a rough sport, probably much rougher on the players than the fans that root (or heckle) those ballplayers. The truth is there’s a lot of failure in baseball. After spending their entire life pursing their dream, they dig in their fingernails to hang on as tight as possible to their major league opportunity, all while “failing”. For hitters, they “fail” to reach base in over 60% of their at-bats or drive in a run maybe once every two games, if they are good (and lucky). For pitchers, they “fail” to win most of the games they pitch in. Ballplayers often fail. Some fail permanently.
Why do they go through that? If it’s the pipe dream of making money, the aspirations of many of those high school and college players get thrown out with the bathwater. Then perhaps, what motivates players to play, to put up with the slumps and the failures and push through them, is that very competition. The chance that on any given night, that they can do something good, if not great.
You have to love baseball and the competition it brings to keep you fueled enough to make it through the daily, monthly, yearly, life-long grind. Yeah, a grind, punctuated by long hours away from home and hearth, flying out to an East/West Coast game, plodding through offseason workouts just to be greeted in the trainer’s room after a hard-worked day riddled with missed opportunities, bad bounces and being a split second late on a 95 mile per hout fastball.
Troy Tulowitzki is one of those fortunate few who has not only worked, but studied his whole life, to become a great baseball player. Few players in recent memory can dominate both the offensive and defensive side of a baseball game like he can. Yet, even he has had his own struggles and failures, including a demotion to the minor leagues shortly after helping to lead the Rockies to the World Series in 2007.
So, I was curious how he got to be the player he is today and was fortunate enough to receive the opportunity to ask him. I wanted to get some insight into how one of the best players in the game “got good”. And, as an aside, I reflected on the answers he gave because I truly wanted to learn, not just about him, but about this game of baseball that I grew up loving. I put my thoughts in italics to make it a little easier to read.
Richard Bergstrom: What were you like in Little League in High school? Were you always a shortstop?
Troy Tulowitzki: It’s the only position I ever played. Even in T-Ball I was a shortstop.
RB: You lived in the Bay Area when Rockies Manager Walt Weiss was a shortstop with the Oakland Athletics. What do you remember of Weiss as a player?
TT: I remember him vividly, I watched all those A’s shortstops. I’d always go to batting practice and watch those guys take ground balls. So I remember Walt. He was a good player. A good winning player, a piece of the team. He’d be the first one to tell you he wasn’t a superstar but if you take Walt Weiss off those teams, I’m not sure they win.