PHOENIX, Ariz. — Nolan Arenado brought a batting practice pitcher and a trainer to Phoenix Municipal Stadium on Friday morning, but no one to shag, which is how an older guy in jeans and inadequate shoes and a rooting interest in home runs ended up in the outfield.
They asked if he needed a glove. He said he didn’t intend to get close enough to catch one.
Besides, it was nice out there. It was warm. The grass was damp and smelled good. The stadium music was classic rock. Jonah Arenado, Nolan’s younger brother and offseason Wiffle ball teammate, threw strikes. Nolan hit line drives, mostly. They communicated in that brotherly baseball way.
“Nice,” Jonah would say.
Or just, “Hip.”
Then, “There you go.”
And, “Ball’s not going anywhere today.”
Nolan would nod or grimace or look dolefully at his bat, then say, “Hit it pretty good though.”
They’re running out of winter, which is a good thing. Baseball is coming, which is not to say Nolan ever leaves it behind. If not at UCLA or UC Irvine or in Oklahoma or any ratty old cage or here, at the home field for Arizona State — the college he’d committed to prior to the 2009 draft. His head and heart and the rest of him can’t ever stay away from it for long.
He hit and hit some more and then took grounders off Jonah’s fungo bat and then more out of Jonah’s hand before finding a shady spot on the Sun Devils’ bench. He soaked his black T-shirt and sweat hung in his beard. His eyes were bright. He loves these mornings.
Arenado will report to the Colorado Rockies on Sunday. He will wear their colors on Monday. All barring a trade before then. The relationship between star player and franchise has grown complicated, perhaps irreconcilably. Those decisions and their consequences are still out there somewhere. Ordinarily, if he were in town by now anyway, he’d probably be over at Rockies camp, doing this there, but maybe none of this is so ordinary anymore. Maybe it can’t ever be. Today, on Friday, it was better here.
Arenado opens up about his relationship with Rockies
So, he’s bleeding a few more mornings like this out of his winter, out of the glare, laughing with his brother, wondering where that headwind came from, maybe trying to hit it away from the defenseless guy in center field.
“You know what, and I want you please to write this down, the perception of me right now, some people have different things, right?” he said. “It’s, ‘Oh, you make money, keep your mouth shut. You signed this deal and this and that.’ But, at the end of the day, man, people misunderstand. Us, as players, we only get one chance at this. I only get one chance at this. I have seven years left on my deal. I don’t know how it’s all going to turn out. And I want to win.
“I’ve been to All-Star Games. I’ve done some special things, you know? I’ve won Gold Gloves. Those all mean a lot to me. At the end of the day the goal is to win. They signed me to win. And I want to be on a winner. If that’s in Colorado or somewhere else, I want to win.
“It gets to a point in your career, you’re like, ‘OK, what else is there to do? I just want to win. I want to play in October.’ Like Derek Jeter, he made it into the Hall of Fame, he played in a season’s worth of playoff games. Obviously that’s a unique situation and I’m not saying I’m ever going to get that, because what he did was special. But I want that. I’ve only been to the playoffs a few times. Honestly, I haven’t played well in it. And I want that again. I want to have that opportunity to, like, show what I can do. You know?”
His contract extension, agreed to not even a year ago, is for $260 million over eight years. His first season in, he hit 41 more home runs and was an All-Star again and was sixth in the MVP vote. The Rockies lost 91 games. Their best player was great again, their highest-paid player was their hardest-working player again. They finished a game out of last place. The club — owner Dick Monfort, general manager Jeff Bridich, wherever this lands — added no player of significance since, against an NL West that became better in at least three cities — Los Angeles, Arizona and San Diego. The challenge grew steeper.
In a couple days he will walk back into a clubhouse filled with teammates he adores. That will be good enough, he said. It will have to be good enough. For all of them, until it is not.
‘There is a disconnect right now’
Maybe the specifics of what caused Arenado to in January say he felt “disrespect from people there” can heal with some baseball, or some baseball can smooth the discord, or this is the beginning of the end of Arenado in Colorado. He’ll be there Sunday. Then again on Monday. And every day after that if he is a Rockie. That’s all there is at the moment. All there can be.
“To be honest with you, there is a disconnect right now, right?” he said Friday. “There’s a little bit of a disconnect. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed. It doesn’t mean that I’m not gonna go out there and play hard for my teammates. Or be a negative presence in that locker room. That’s just not me. It’s not how I’m going to do things. I’m not going to be there trying to show them I don’t want to be there. I’m not going to be that way. That’s not fair. That’s drawing attention to me.
“I know there’s already been attention toward me right now. That’s not really my style. I’m not trying to put my teammates in a bad position. You know? That’s not really my thing. They know I’m going to go out there and play hard. There is a little bit of a disconnect for sure. But, like I said, that doesn’t mean I can’t go out there and play hard. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to have a bad attitude. It means there’s a disconnect. And I’ve got to move on from it. I don’t need to surround myself with the negativity, because that’s going to factor in my performance.”
He was asked if there was anything he’d want to take back. He stared for a moment through the dugout netting, across the field. His brother waited. There’s a whole season out there. In purple, as of now.
“No. I don’t,” he said. “I know there’s some things that I said. I won’t take them back. I won’t apologize for what I’ve said. At all. The only thing I do regret is my teammates answering questions for me, maybe. That’s something that I wish I wouldn’t have put them in that position and I apologize for that. But, as for what I’ve said and how I’ve gone about my offseason, I have no regrets and I’m not going to apologize for anything.”
He gathered two bats, wedged a glove under his left arm and stood. There was something still on his mind.
“I only get one chance at this and I want to win, you know?” he said. “And I don’t want to be the guy who gets paid and packs it in. I won’t be. So I’m optimistic for the season. I have to be. And if we put things together and compete?”
“Hey,” he said, “you never know.”
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