Tulowitzki hits, fields, teaches, a fit in any era
By Bob Elliott
St. PETERSBURG, Fla. _ Every generation thinks it was better than the current one.
And that covers those who play steel guitars, ping pong or baseball.
“Back in my day ...” the complaining sentence begins.
In the old days major leaguers talked baseball every waking hour.
Claude Raymond once told us of a 1961 trip with the Milwaukee Braves. Veteran pitchers Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette and Bob Buhl took out rookies Ron Piche and Raymond to pass on their knowledge. Eventually, the two Quebec relievers decided in was their turn to pay.
Raymond put his hand in his pocket when the bill came. Buhl, with Pop Eye-like fore arms, grabbed Raymond by the wrist and told him he had two choices: drop the cash into his pocket or listen to the noise or a wrist snapping.
Troy Tulowitzki starting his first full season with the Jays could have played in the 1960s when players talked ball.
Blue Jays third base coach Luis Rivera played in the majors from 1986-98.
Rivera said Tulowitzki could have played in the 1980s and 1990s.
He certainly can play in 2016.
“When I played they would have four hitters stay after a game for extra hitting each day of the spring,” Rivera said. The Jays did the practice as recently as Raul Mondesi in 2002.
“This spring he was always taking guys to the batting cage (in Dunedin) sometimes an hour, sometimes two.”
Josh Donaldson, Kevin Pillar, Chris Colabello, Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney were a few of Tulowitzki’s troops to trek to the hitting facility.
This season in back-to-back, 5-3 wins over the Tampa Bay Rays, Tulowitzki hit a two-run homer and made two fine defensive plays (roaming behind second and charging to throw on the run) as the Jays won the opener. He knocked in a run and reacted when Curt Casali’s hard smash jumped to about eye level as if re-directed in the slot.
And in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss he singled in the Jays two-run fourth and was flawless in the field.
What does Tulowitzki do best, the shortstop is asked at his locker?
Is he a better hitter -- with 1,205 hits (in 1,091 games in the majors), 194 homers on his resume and two silver slugger awards -- than a fielder?
Or is he a better fielder -- with a pair of gold gloves to his credit -- than a hitter?
He thinks for a second or two at before he answers.
“Neither one,” Tulowitzki says.
“I’d say walking into the clubhouse and caring about winning,” Tulowitzki said.
Believe it or else Ripley, not everyone is that way.
“Hey, I got two hits, I got mine,” a player will say.
Or then there was the Jays starting pitcher who would sit in the dugout and openly cheer against another starter who had more wins than he did.
With Jose Reyes shaky, Tulowitzki stabilized the infield.
“Troy is always talking baseball,” Rivera said. “He’s always trying to help. He doesn’t want to let the kids fall behind.”
R.A. Dickey had Yuniesky Betancourt behind him with the Seattle Mariners, as well as Alex Rodriguez in back of him with the Texas Rangers and Tulowitzki.
“Troy is one of the top three, he’s in the argument,” said Dickey. “Troy has great baseball awareness.”
And he had it for some time. In high school. Then, with the Long Beach State Dirtbags. For part of high school and with the ‘49ers he carried baseball cards of Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra in his back pocket.
That’s how much of a ball fan and a shortstop fan, Tulowitzki was.
“I would see Nomar on ESPN and he could really hit,” said Tulowitzki. “Jeter? What can you say. He was always getting the big hit, making the good fielding play.
“Those cards were covered in dirt and I washed them twice by mistake.”
A pro scout on hand Tuesday had amateur coverage in 2005.
“I saw Jacoby Ellsbury (Oregon State) and Tulowitzki the same tournament,” said one scout, “I told my boss give either anything they want as a signing bonus. That’s how good they were as college players.”
Tulowitzki was a name discussed at the Rogers Centre long before last July. The Jays had a choice between selecting lefty Ricky Romero and Tulowitzki on June 7, 2005.
Romero pitched for the Cal-State Fullerton Titans, who faced Long Beach in Big West play.
“Ricky and I got along real well,” said Tulowitzki, then the pair were roommates as Team USA went to Japan and won gold beating Japan in the second World University Games.
“It was nice to play with some of the best around,” he said. Future major leaguers Ryan Zimmerman, Mike Pelfrey, Alex Gordon, Daniel Bard, Ian Kennedy, Jed Lowrie, Jeff Clement, Joey Devine and Taylor Teagarden were on the team. Romero won the semi-final and Luke Hochevar the final.
Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi selected Romero with the sixth over-all pick and Rockies scouting director Bill Schmidt chose Tulowitzki seventh.
“I never really heard much from Toronto, they had drafted a shortstop (Russ Adams),” Tulowitzki said.
Romero made 127 starts in five seasons with the Jays and earned an all-star berth. Now, he’s in the triple-A Sacramento River Cats starting rotation as the fifth starter. Romero faced Las Vegas on Monday.
“I wish Ricky well, he’s a good dude,” said Tulowitzki.
Tulowitzki’s Blue Jays teammates are saying the same thing about him.