A Tragic Loss of Baseball Innocence and Troy Tulowitzki
Pain. Misery. Heartbreak. Baseball.
I’ve written before about the romantic, poetic feelings this game brings out of me. How ecstatic it makes me feel, how nauseous I become watching it, how nostalgic I get thinking about it.
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Yesterday, I lost a piece of what makes this game so romantic.
For nearly 10 seasons, I watched Troy Tulowitzki play shortstop for the Colorado Rockies. He debuted my senior year of high school as a starlet prospect and lived up to every piece of hype we could give him. He was electric defensively, his range and his throwing arm were exceptional and he brought the crowd to its feet with darling play after darling play.
Even in 2007, when I watched him strike out on opening day, you could kind of tell this kid was a little more special than the other prospects the Rockies had brought up. Just two years prior, the Rockies had a kid named Clint Barmes come up and hit the lights out. But this was different. This was like Helton, like Holliday, this was a kid that you could just tell by the way he moved was going to change people’s days.
In 2009, you saw the full emergence of one of the top five players in baseball. The 2009 Rockies are arguably the greatest team in franchise history and who was right there at the core of it: Troy Tulowitzki. Had Ryan Howard not broken our hearts that October evening there is not a doubt in my mind the franchise would have won its first World Championship in 2009 with Tulowitzki as its MVP.
There were injuries, there were down years, and the Rockies never reclaimed the glory of Troy’s first three seasons despite the shortstop becoming potentially the best player in the National League throughout his time at the 6. But throughout his time, he never got in trouble, he never missed a practice, Tulo stuck his head down and soldiered on.
That’s all over now. Just memories, really. Tulo is on a flight to Toronto and we’re here judging the merits of the trade that took him away from us.
But don’t let it trick you, this disillusioned feeling you have in your gut. Don’t let it try to convince you to never fall in love again.
The game isn’t always here for your joy, it will not always reciprocate your passion.
Baseball’s innocence is shrouded in the glory days of players playing entire careers in one place, the game you learn from your parents and grandparents is one of watching a player play 20 years in front of your eyes. Wins, losses, it didn’t matter then. Your favorite players were yours.
It’s this loss of innocence that hurts more than the player leaving. It’s the idea behind it that hurts more than never seeing Tulo play again.
You’ll never experience the same game your parents did, the one your grandfather talks about, the one Alec Baldwin narrates over on weekday summer afternoons. You live in a different world. One where building a baseball team takes risk, takes radical injunctions in what was previously believed. You can’t build a baseball team on nostalgia and emotion. That’s difficult to learn and it’s a lesson that was taught again last night.
Jake Shaprio of Rockies Zingers did a better job than I ever could at explaining what Tulo and players like Tulo mean to people, what they mean to young men growing up in love with a sport that relies on physics just as much as talent.
We hold these men dear because we feel connected to more than just who they are, what they wear, what position they play. We’re connected to generations of people who grew up loving the same sport we do, hundreds of years of men, women, and children we can share a common theme with.
But this feeling, this empty feeling doesn’t seem to connect with anyone.
We share in our misery but that doesn’t give us a meaningful connection to all the things that we love about baseball, does it? Misery loves company but it’s never the company we seek.
Last night at Wrigley Field, proudly wearing my Nolan Arenado shirsey and applauding loudly at every Descalso ground ball, I witnessed the beginning of a new era in Rockies baseball in person. An era where the next few years may see players judged on their trade value over their championship pedigree, an era that many Rockies fans called for but few actually wanted in their hearts.
Our favorite players exist to connect us to the game and to others, as I left the ballpark after a 7-2 win a Cubs fan stopped me to tell me Nolan was his favorite player not wearing blue.
Our favorite players connect us as humans, they give us stories to tell and hope to share. We hold these normal men with extraordinary athletic ability close to our hearts because of that.
This wasn’t just about losing a good player, this was a loss of baseball innocence.
A sport that can make us feel so young gave us a painful shot of adult disappointment.
And frankly, it sucks.