Arenado got the message from the Rockies
Third baseman shook off disappointment of not being called up last season
DENVER -- Nolan Arenado admits he had a pity party for himself last season.
Then Kevin Riggs, now the manager at Double-A Tulsa, gave him a wake-up call.
Arenado answered, emphatically.
The Rockies liked the response.
That's why they traded incumbent third baseman Chris Nelson, who hit .301 in 2012, to the New York Yankees last Wednesday. Technically it was for a player to be determined or cash.
Realistically, it was for the opportunity to open the big league door to Arenado, who less than a month into his first year at Triple-A had answered all the questions that were created last summer.
"Last year was a struggle," said Arenado, the Rockies' No. 2 prospect. "I had never been through that before. Riggsy called me in and told me, 'No one cares if you struggle. In fact, there are people out there who hope you fail.' It was up to me to take care of business."
Arenado shook off the disappointment in late July last year when the Rockies told him that, for all the hoopla Arenado received the previous offseason in the Arizona Fall League, there were no free passes to the big leagues.
Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, who Arenado beat out for the Most Valuable Player Award of the AFL in 2011, were headed to the AL and NL Rookie of the Year Awards. Arenado wasn't even going to get a September callup from the Rockies. Heck, he was struggling to hit .260 at Double-A.
Arenado's response? He hit nearly .400 in the final month at Tulsa. He spent the offseason strengthening himself mentally and physically. Arenado came into Spring Training and quickly created speculation that he might actually be the Rockies' Opening Day third baseman.
He wound up, instead, at Triple-A Colorado Springs, but not for long. Before the first month of the season had come to a conclusion, Arenado had come to the big leagues.
And while he has reaffirmed that he belonged in the big leagues in his first eight games with the Rockies -- he went into Wednesday night hitting .294 with three home runs, including a grand slam off Tampa Bay lefty David Price -- he points back to that session in Tulsa with Riggs as a turning point in his career.
The late Hal Keller, a former Mariners general manager and longtime baseball executive, used to say he could never tell how good a player could be until he saw how bad he could be. Keller said it wasn't about a player's physical ability, it was about his mental ability. Baseball is a game heavy of failure. It crushes most careers. But the good ones accept the challenge.
Arenado is a good one.
"[Arenado] was given a challenge, and he met it," said Bill Geivett, the Rockies' senior vice president of Major League operations. "He showed us he was ready to play."
Arenado's big league debut came on April 28 at Arizona, and the next night he was in the lineup for the opening game of a three-game series at Dodger Stadium, against the team the Southern California native grew up rooting for. More than 45 family and friends were in attendance.
Arenado didn't disappoint. He went 3-for-6 with a home run that sliced over the right-center-field fence. That sent the Rockies on their way to winning two of three at Dodger Stadium, only the third time they have won a series in their past 12 visits to Dodger Stadium.
And then, on Saturday night -- the seventh day of his big league career -- Arenado unloaded a grand slam off Price, which sealed a 10-2 Rockies victory. The disappointments of the last year were now so insignificant.
"The Rockies had a plan for me, and I had to understand the only control I had was on how I handled myself,'' said Arenado. "I have a lot of expectations for myself, but I learned you don't worry about what you want to do.
"Todd Helton told me it is about the process, about getting better, not about [personal] results. The results take care of themselves if you take care of the process. Maybe I was too caught up in results."
The Rockies sent Arenado a message last summer, when they declined to bring him to the big leagues.
They reiterated it this spring, when they declined to include him on the Opening Day roster.
And by the end of April, Arenado had made it apparent the message was received.
Tracy Ringolsby is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.