Ringolsby: Never Settle
Rene Lachemann, who spent 53 straight years in pro ball as a player, coach or manager, was speaking at a Boy Scouts banquet in Cheyenne, Wyo., when he was asked about his favorite big leaguer.
“I used to think nobody could ever match Brooks (Robinson) . . .” Lachemann replied, before he went into detail about the exploits of Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. “I’ve seen him do something and say, ‘I’ve never seen that before,’ and the next game I’m saying it again.”
When that story was related to Larry Bowa, the former big league shortstop, manager and coach laughed.
“I was like that with Schmidty,” Bowa said of his longtime Phillies teammate Mike Schmidt, a Hall of Famer.
Then along came Arenado.
“I don’t know if he knows it, but my favorite player is the third baseman (in Colorado),” Bowa said. “Playing on the East Coast (with the Phillies) when I was coaching, I would go home and turn on the Rockies game.
“My wife said, ‘What are you doing watching Colorado?’ I told her, ‘I love to watch this kid play third.’ ”
It is not just Arenado’s skills that draw attention.
“I like to see guys who are hard workers, who respect the game and don’t take it for granted,” Bowa said. “Everyone thinks if you get a big league uniform, you’re going to be here for 10 years. It doesn’t work like that. The longer you’re here, the harder you have to work. So when I see work ethic, I respect that.”
Arenado respects the fact that people like Lachemann and Bowa hold him with such high regard.
“They have been in this game a long time and have seen so many great players,” Arenado said. “For them to talk about me like that is humbling. It is an incentive for me to work harder. When people respect you like that, you don’t want to let them down.”
Arenado hasn’t. In the annual BA survey of Best Tools, Arenado placed second in the National League for Best Power, behind Bryce Harper of the Nationals; and third for Most Exciting Player. In the field, he stands as the Best Defensive Third Baseman and the runner-up for Best Infield Arm, behind only the Cubs’ Javier Baez.
Arenado takes special satisfaction in his successful big league career because he knows it is the result of pure focus, determination and hard work.
The Rockies drafted Arenado in the second round in 2009 out of high school in Lake Forest, Calif. Scouting director Bill Schmidt is quick to point out the Rockies did not envision Arenado as an everyday third baseman, much less an annual all-star and a player who would win five Gold Gloves in his first five big league seasons.
“He was a bit chunky, but he had a strong arm, and (crosschecker) Ty Coslow would talk about never seeing him mis-hit a ball,” Schmidt said. “He didn’t necessarily hit balls over the fence, but he never mis-hit one. We thought he might be a catcher.”
Arenado knew that. However, he also knew the Rockies were going to let him play third base initially. And he knew it was up to him to prove he could play the position.
“I was willing (to convert to catcher), but it wasn’t what my heart wanted to do,” Arenado said. “I was willing to do it because it was going to get me drafted higher and give me a chance to play pro ball.
“I always believed I could play in the infield, but I was a little slow and I could see why teams had questions. I was a little out of shape, too.”
Arenado, however, was very much into proving himself. Gabe Bauer, the Rockies’ director of physical performance who was working at the minor league level at the time, was there to provide Arenado guidance.
“He was telling me I was going to get moved (to catcher) if I didn’t get in shape,” Arenado said. “I lost 20 pounds that first offseason. I came back lean and ready to go.”
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When Arenado reached high Class A Modesto in 2011, Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein told the Rockies they needed to leave him at third.
“We worked early almost every day,” Arenado said. “It didn’t matter if we had a late bus ride the night before. Every day we had an early workout at 1 p.m. Then we had batting practice, some drills again, then play the game. He gave me the push on those days I didn’t want to work. He wouldn’t let me slack off.”
It is a lesson Arenado learned well. Now in his sixth big league season, his work habits are stronger than ever.
Even with five Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers and four All-Star Game appearances, Arenado isn’t satisfied.
“It’s never-ending work,” he said. “I don’t want to let up. You could get lazy out here. I think the older you get, the more you have to keep on it. So I always try to do my drills, and do them the same way I did my rookie year.”
Arenado made it to the big leagues because of hard work and determination.
And he plans to stay for the same reasons.