DUNEDIN, Fla. â€” He arrived early Thursday sporting a Superman T-shirt but Troy Tulowitzki wants to become more of an iron man with the Toronto Blue Jays.
The 32-year-old infielder showed up days before his official report date and upon his arrival hit the gym for a lengthy workout. Tulowitzki plans to keep playing shortstop â€” a position he described as “demanding, especially as you get older” â€” for the remainder of his career.
“I’m trying to do something no one’s ever done: be as big as I am and continue to play shortstop at the highest level,” Tulowitzki said. “I challenge myself every single day to keep this thing going.
“It’s something I take pride in and hopefully for my entire career I’ll be at that position.”
At six foot three and 205 pounds, Tulowitzki towers over the traditional shortstop.
While Tulowitzki has struggled to stay healthy recently â€” he tore his left hip labrum in 2014, cracked his shoulder blade in 2015, and missed three weeks with a right quad strain in 2016 â€” the 11-year veteran said having a strong mental approach has made the difference in his career.
“I’ve had years where I’ve had to grind every single day,” he said. “I’ve had years I felt good all the way through, I’ve had times when I’ve had to have surgery and back off, so you never know what you’re going to go through, and that’s where being mentally strong comes in to play.
“That’s how you get to play this game for a long time. Being faced with adversity and getting back up.”
Tulowitzki said he hasn’t changed much in terms of his off-season preparation over the years. He’s grown accustomed to a routine and sticks with it.
It’s served him well so far.
Tulowitzki has a .292 career average and .364 on-base percentage over 1,220 games. But what he prides himself on most is his reputation as a stellar defensive shortstop.
“When the ball’s hit to me I want not only our coaches to put their heads down (because they know) the innings’s over but anyone who watches the game,” said Tulowitzki, who had a .983 fielding percentage last season. “That’s what I try to bring on a day-to-day basis, that consistency.
“I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself in that area because I expect so much,” he added. “I challenge (the rest of Toronto’s infield) on a daily basis to get better.”
Toronto manager John Gibbons can appreciate what Tulowitzki has brought to his team over the last two seasons.
“He’s been great,” Gibbons said. “A big part of pitching success is catching the ball behind them.
“Tulo, he’s not a flashy guy, just a blue-collar guy, goes out there and does his job and really no one does it better. He plays the position a little bit different, he’s always on the move. But I’ve never been around anybody on a daily basis that is as good as him. You can’t win without a good shortstop.”
Tulowitzki, once a highly-touted prospect in the Colorado Rockies system, looked up to players like Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra. Now, he’s become a role model for young shortstops both around the league and in Toronto’s organization.
He’s talked to Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor and Houston’s Carlos Correa as well as Blue Jays prospect Bo Bichette, the 18-year-old son of former Rockies all-star slugger and hitting coach Dante Bichette.
“I’ve never been the guy to sit there and hide knowledge,”he said. “I want them to have all the knowledge that I have. I’ve seen other guys say ‘I’m not going to tell these guys too much because they’re going to take my job,’ I’m not worried about that.
“When the season’s over one of the things I’m most proud of is ‘did I help my teammates get better?’ It’s a team here and that’s what you guys will remember â€” us winning a World Series and how much of a team we were, not necessarily what’s on my baseball card.”
Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press