By Patrick Saunders
After nearly every game, no matter how he has done, Troy Tulowitzki heads to the batting cage. He has done that throughout his career, but his approach is different now. Maniacal intensity has been replaced by a more thoughtful, though still sweat-soaked, session.
There are a lot of things different about the Rockies’ 29-year-old all-star shortstop these days, most notably his conviction to playing smarter, training better and adhering to a strict body maintenance plan borrowed from tennis great Novak Djokovic.
Those changes are a central reason why Tulo heads into Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Minneapolis on pace for his best all-round season, with a league-leading average, 21 home runs and an impressive OPS to go with his usual Gold Glove defense. Fans rewarded his play, giving him more votes — 5,349,456 — than any National League player.
Though the Rockies have collapsed as a team, Tulowitzki has shined.
“Everyone wants to be like Tulo and have those skills, of course,” said Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. “But Tulo’s skills are the way they are because he works so hard. The work he puts in is what makes him the best player in the major leagues.”
Now, though, Tulo takes a more disciplined approach to his craft. His postgame cage matches used to have a frenetic pace. If he had a bad night at the plate, he would beat himself up mentally and take his frustration out on a helpless baseball.
“I used to go in there after the game and hit until, well, whenever,” Tulo said. “I would be in there so long, I’d be shaking.”
Now, he takes a few minutes to talk to the media, stretches out his chronically tight leg muscles and then fixes himself a greenish-colored nutrition shake concocted from fruit or kale. Then he’ll enter the batting cage and get to work.
“If I like my swing, I’ll try to lock it in,” he said. “Sometimes I’m upset with myself and I try to fix things. It varies. But I’m smarter now, calmer. Now I make it a point to get my shake and refuel.”
Since bursting onto the major-league scene in 2007 and helping lead the Rockies to the World Series, Tulo has battled leg injuries. His 2008 season was marred when he tore a tendon in his left quadriceps, forcing him to miss 46 games. He played just 47 games in 2012, sidelined by a left groin injury that led to season-ending surgery.
Change for the good
Tulowitzki’s critics call him fragile, a label he despises. But the irony is that the multiple injuries he has endured led Tulo to radically change his routine. It’s turned out to be blessing wrapped in an ice pack.
“We are a little bit more than halfway through the season, so you don’t want to get carried away and jinx yourself, but so far, so good,” Tulowitzki said. “More than anything else, it’s satisfying to me that I have put in all of this work and it has not only kept me healthy, but I feel like I have been a better player than I’ve ever been.”
Tulowitzki’s daily routine involves hours of scripted workouts, video study, stretching and a postgame plunge into an ice bath. At home, he often sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber, where the rich oxygen atmosphere helps him recover, soothing aches and pains.
Tulo adds, quickly, that his wife, Danyll, “understands that it’s part of my job, during the season.”
The shortstop based a significant part of his regimen on a plan developed by Djokovic, the 27-year-old Serb who this month beat Roger Federer to win Wimbledon and gain the world’s No. 1 ranking. Tulowitzki read Djokovic’s book, “Serve to Win,” which is part biography and part nutritional guide, late last season and began a new diet and workout plan in the offseason. Djokovic espouses a strict gluten-free, dairy-free, low-sugar diet.
“I try to stick to that diet,” Tulo said. “It’s helped me with my energy and my conditioning. I think there are a lot of similarities between a shortstop and a tennis player. There is a lot of lateral movement and quickness. And it’s tough on the body.”
Plus, the 6-foot-2 Djokovic, like the 6-3 Tulowitzki, is a tall man excelling in a sport that requires great dexterity.
Rockies trainer Keith Dugger said Tulo can be “stubborn as heck” about changing something such as diet or his workout routine, but adds, “When he finally buys into something, he dives in 100 percent.”
Dugger applauds the changes the four-time all-star has made.
“It’s part of getting older. He’s matured,” Dugger said. “He’s taken ownership of not just his body, but the way he approaches things. I think that’s taken some of the pressure off him. He’s not trying to meet other’s expectations. He’s not worried about perceptions. That’s off him now.”
Tip of cap to discipline
Colorado manager Walt Weiss knows a thing or two about playing shortstop and the grind baseball can be. A former all-star who played 14 major-league seasons, he tips his cap to Tulowitzki’s steadfastness this season.
“Tulo is incredibly disciplined,” Weiss said. “It’s impossible to be great without discipline, and he’s an example of that. He does everything in his power to stay on the field.”
Given Tulo’s injury history, he gets prescribed days off, and if he feels tightness in his groin, he will ease up on the bases or take a day or two off. He has missed just two games this season due to injury.
“I’ve told myself, ‘If you’re going to get hurt again, make sure you have covered all of your bases,’ ” he said. “That way you can sit in your chair, be on the DL, look at it and say: ‘Hey look, I can’t do anything more. This is all I had and I gave it everything I had.’ I can firmly say that now.
“Not only can I say that, it’s helped me stay on the field. And so far it’s been good. There are going to be hiccups here and there with me; it’s just the way that I’m built and it’s just the way that I play. But now I have a system in place.”
Tulo acknowledges there are a lot of people who can’t always relate to his tunnel-vision approach. He has a ready answer.
“They’ll say: ‘Why do you put in that much time? That’s all you do 24-7?’ ” Tulo said. “But I know I’m not going to do this forever, so I feel like I want to put everything into it. And then, when my time is over and I’m done playing, I can relax and do whatever the heck I want.”
True independence can only come in doing what you think is right, and doing what you think is right creates a stronger and more confident self.
Congratulations to Germany’s Mario Goetze for scoring the last minute goal to give Germany their 4th world cup win and first in 25 years! 22 year old Goetze, who wasn’t even born in 1990 when Germany won their last World Cup, was a sub for Miroslav Klose toward the end of regulation time. Goetze has had to climb though the ranks of German soccer and after getting little playing time in this World Cup he came up big with it mattered the most and won the most important game for his country.
In Another’s Words
Having independence is knowing how to set your own boundaries, and figuring out how to make that balance.
– Michelle Obama