While I tend to gravitate towards the players in the game that don’t get big time recognition, I still find a place in my heart for people who do.
Still, you aren’t going to find me talking about why I love Albert Pujols or Joe Mauer in this space. Although, the sport is in a great state with those two as the game’s best ambassadors.
No, today’s players I love are guys who’ve built up a little bit of a following. Guys who’ve had some early success at the major league level and are right on the brink of taking steps up the ladder of appreciation amongst more casual fans.
Today is a little bit different in another instance because the players I’m talking about are not guys that I know much about outside of watching them play and the statistics I see. A common trait of the players I’ve talked about this week has been a deeper knowledge about what they are about or what their play represents.
I don’t know much about Troy Tulowitzki or Chris Coghlan outside of the 32 home runs and .321 average they owned in 2009, respectively. However, I did find a common trait between them when I did some digging.
I concluded that both guys have already been humbled. They’ve experienced success and failure, triumph and tragedy. I guess what I like most about them though is the talent or the potential they represent for the future of baseball and the humbled experiences have set the stage for that.
Troy Tulowitzki was finally able to build off his fantastic rookie year in 2007. He’s also 25 and not done getting better.
The strong-armed shortstop out of Long Beach State has already done a career’s worth of exciting things in his short career. He’s turned an unassisted triple play and hit a NL rookie shortstop record 24 home runs in 2007.
However the most memorable part of that 2007 year was what all those home runs helped lead the Rockies to. Tulowitzki was 4-for-7 in the tie-breaking 163rd game against San Diego, and he even scored the tying run in the 13th inning.
The shortstop did struggle in the postseason though, despite Colorado winning the entire National League. But after an injury plagued 2008 season, Tulowitzki re-established himself as one of the elite up and comers in the game.
How many shortstops can hit 32 home runs and steal 20 bases? This isn’t Jhonny Peralta masquerading as a shortstop either; this is a legitimate gold glove caliber defender playing the position.
More recently, the man they call “Tulo” has been able to temper his emotions and center his focus within the game.
After living with every at-bat as it was his last for most of his baseball career, Tulowitzki told the Denver Post a few months ago that the struggles of 2008 helped him become a better player and teammate.
“It's not that my goals have changed. I want to win a World Series. I want to win the MVP. And I am not afraid to throw that out there, because that's how I feel. But at the same time I have learned that this game is not life and death."
Sometimes players have to be humbled before they can take the appropriate step towards greatness. In Tulowitzki’s case, he took one step forward, but was forced to retrace it in order to take two forward.
And then there is some that may have already taken those backward steps before you notice them.
I think Marlins outfielder Chris Coghlan fits that description.
On the surface, you have a kid who busted onto the scene last year and led all major league hitters in average after the All-Star break.
Instead of slowing down, Coghlan sped up and carried a remarkable .372 average in the second half of the MLB season. He finished sixth in the NL in batting average with .321.
With all the statistics and the NL Rookie of the Year award, it would appear as if this kid needs to be humbled much like Tulowitzki was before he takes the next step.
Coghlan was already humbled about nine years ago.
Tim Coghlan died in 2001 after he was involved in a traffic accident while on an out-of-town business trip. Chris was 15-years-old at the time of his father’s death.
Fortunately, he had a support system with his mother, his faith, and a pair of trainers from The Winning Inning Baseball Academy located a short distance from his old home in Florida.
It was difficult, but with that support system and his own inner-drive, it would appear as if Coghlan has seen what he needs to see to maintain his success.
If his father’s untimely passing doesn’t carry built-in motivation and drive to be the best player you can possibly be, then I’m not sure what does. I don’t know if Coghlan needs a humbling baseball experience, but I’m sure he’s developed the perseverance to get through it.
But really, how do you improve on a .321 average in your rookie year?
Well for one, Coghlan only played in 128 games with 504 at-bats. Yet he still managed to get 162 hits in that amount of time. Can he hit .321 again? Who knows, probably not. But that doesn’t mean he won’t grow as a player.
Just look at the situation he was thrown into, playing a new position and hitting in a new spot in the lineup at the major league level, left field and leadoff, and how he excelled. That’s someone who can handle the pressure.
That’s someone who can handle anything that could potentially be thrown at him.
You’ve got two players, young players might I add, that have already had a large amount of success rather quickly. But for both, it feels as if the best has yet to come.
Two excellent players who’ve already had to go through some learning experiences before they could move forward as better baseball players.
I love their potential. I love the perseverance through those tough times, not taking their talent and that potential for granted. You see too many young players today, especially highly touted ones, not fulfill what is expected of them.
And I guarantee you a fair portion of those players don’t fulfill expectations because they themselves lose focus, or they don’t have the right guidance.
Chris Coghlan and Troy Tulowitzki have the right focus and have received the proper guidance and I have no doubt they’ll both be just fine.
"Players I Love" is a part of a month-long series of articles that are previewing the 2010 MLB season. For the other parts of "Players I Love" and a schedule, click here .
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