Durability remains the last great hurdle for Tulowitzki
Rockies shortstop shares admiration for Ripken's skills, ability to stay on field
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has plenty of plaques on the wall and trophies for the mantle of a fireplace. He's been an All-Star, won Gold Gloves and Silver Slugger awards. Tulowitzki was even given 10 years of contract security three years ago.
And he's done it before turning 30.
That, however, doesn't compare to the respect from Tulowitzki's peers and his predecessors, like Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr., who was asked during a book tour in Florida earlier in Spring Training about specific players he likes to watch.
"I tend to peek in on Troy Tulowitzki every once in a while to see his skill set, because he is a big strong guy and has a unique set of skills where he almost plays in a running style similar to smaller shortstops," Ripken said. "He has different gears, which I found fascinating. And he's a thinker in that position, so I like talking to him."
Tulowitzki's eyes lit up when the statement was repeated to him.
Everybody likes to be liked.
But to be the focus of someone the caliber of Ripken, who forced folks to realize that shortstops could hit home runs just like any other player, not just be wiry little guys with strong arms and basestealing abilities. ... Well that's special.
"To just get mentioned with Cal is special," said Tulowitzki. "But to have Cal say something like that about you is really something. He's one person that as I came up, size wise, he's a guy who would always be mentioned. "
But it's more than the size and the power of Ripken that gets Tulowitzki's attention. It was the durability.
Tulowitzki shakes his head in admiration at the thought of Ripken's all-time record streak of 2,632 consecutive games, which at one point included him playing in 8,264 consecutive innings, believed to be a record, although there is no official documentation. It's more than 3,000 innings longer than the second-longest known streak of innings, and that was in the late 1800s.
"To be that big and bulky and play a physically tough position like shortstop is amazing," said Tulowitzki. "That streak will never be broken. So many things can happen that are out of your control."
Tulowitzki knows all about that. As good a player as he is, an assortment of injuries have allowed him to play more than 130 games just twice in the last six seasons.
Yes, Tulowitzki has had four seasons of at least 25 home runs, something that only five other shortstops have ever done -- Ripken (eight), Alex Rodriguez (seven), Ernie Banks (seven), Miguel Tejada (six) and Nomar Garciaparra (four). In 2011, Tulowitzki became the second National League shortstop to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs. Banks is the other, and he did it seven times.
What eats at Tulowitzki, though, is he has played only 436 of the 648 games the Rockies have played the last four seasons.
"You're here to be on the field," he said. "You don't help your team if you can't contribute."
It's not like there are chronic problems. Stuff just happens.
Just last week, in what Colorado felt was an act of retaliation last Wednesday, Arizona left-hander Wade Miley hit Tulowitzki with a pitch on his left calf. Tulowitzki returned to the lineup in Monday's 9-7 win against San Diego at Peoria.
At least it was just a contusion, not a broken bone, like in 2010 when Tulowitzki had to be scratched from the first of his three All-Star selections because he suffered a broken left wrist when he was hit by a pitch from Minnesota reliever Alex Burnett on June 17. A year ago, he suffered a broken rib making a diving play.
In 2008, Tulowitzki not only sustained a torn left quad making a defensive play in the first inning of a game at AT&T Park (in a game he was supposed to be off, but Chris Nelson was a late scratch) and missed 46 games, but 13 games after his return, he lacerated his right hand when he slammed his bat after making an out and the bat splintered.
In 2012, it was a strained groin that required surgery and ended Tulowitzki's season on May 30. And a year ago, he broke a rib making a diving play on an Ian Desmond ground ball up the middle.
"I'd love to be in the field more than I have been," said Tulowitzki. "I have to look at what I get out of it. I don't feel I'd be as mentally tough if I hadn't gone through this. I think my [daily] routine is better because of it.
"As time goes on, you face a lot of battles. You start to understand the grind it can be. You aren't going through a season with everything perfect. You understand there are going to be bumps in the road."
Over time, Tulowitzki has learned to smooth out some of those rough spots. He's actually learned to work a little less.
"Less can be good," Tulowitzki said. "Like taking swings in the [indoor batting] cage. You feel good, and you step out, you don't push yourself to perfection to that point where you are mentally and physically exhausted. You want to be ready to play."
And it is playing, more than anything else, that Tulowitzki enjoys about the game.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.