For most of 2016, Nolan Arenado walks to the plate to the auto-tune-infused, synth-heavy “Wonderful” by Houston musician Travis Scott.
The chorus begins with:
“Oh my, oh my what a wonderful time/Been a minute since I pulled up outside/ Shut it down, yeah, we do that every time.”
It’s like the rapper was summing up Arenado’s season. Scott’s new album dropped Friday, and that’s all the Rockies All Star has been listening to the last few days.
But when asked about a wonderful time in this season, Arenado wasn’t thinking retrospectively. Success and accolades are nice, but they are the last thing on his mind.
“We still have a lot of games left, so it’s hard for me to really sit back and talk about what I’ve done well,” Arenado said. “Because I have a month left, so I’m just focusing on going out there grinding as hard as I can. Right now, I’m focused on what I have to do.”
But after a stellar performance in the first half of the season, not everything was wonderful for Arenado. In July he hit .228 after hitting .287 before the break, arguably having the toughest stretch of his career.
“I don’t really have the right thing to say about it,” Arenado said. “It was a tough stretch. You go through these things in baseball. Ups and downs can be tough. It’s frustrating. It’s hard to stay level for a long time. That’s why the great baseball players of this game they stay level for a long period of time.”
The moment Arenado utters that last sentence, David Ortiz flashes on one of the TVs in the Rockies Clubhouse.
“Exactly like Papi,” he said. “Like Miguel Cabrera. They know how to stay even keel. You always strive to be great. I just want to get better every year. That’s all I think about. It’s hard for me to really be content with what I’m doing right now, and that’s just kind of how it is.”
He can’t even be content after he has hit .356 for the month of August, bringing up his average to .295, higher than it has been all season. Tack on 36 home runs, 117 RBIs and a gold glove that is as imminent as incessant ads in campaign season, and he just keeps getting better. Part of that growth comes from his willingness to still learn after all of the success.
“I feel, this is my fourth year, I’m still learning as I get older how to become a major leaguer. That’s kind of what I’m still striving for,” Arenado said. “I’m still learning. I’m still learning who I am as a ball player and how I am handling this game. I feel like I’m getting better every day. Hopefully I have a few more years in this league.”
Arenado knows that nothing is promised and that drives his determination. Part of the learning process includes managing self-criticism. While members of the press are running out of ways to describe his finesse with the glove or explosiveness with his bat, Arenado is his own toughest critic.
“I don’t know why [I’m so hard on myself.] I wouldn’t say that’s how I was raised, but I feel like if I don’t go hard, I’m letting my guard down,” Arenado said. “Maybe I’m not going to get the best out of myself and that kind of scares me. There are times when I get frustrated where I shouldn’t, but I want to win. And we haven’t won here. That has a lot to do with it. There’s a frustration when I feel like I’m not doing my part and we’re losing. That upsets me.”
But as a veteran in a clubhouse, with nine guys who have made their major league debut this year, Arenado’s role goes much further than what he does on the field. He said it was daunting coming in as a rookie.
“I wish when I was younger I would have heard just go play,” Arenado said. “Enjoy this and go play. I think you can get weary trying to impress and not step on anyone’s toes. You want to make sure you are doing everything right. The key to up here man is just go play. Because you don’t want young guys not liking us or not wanting to be here. We want them to enjoy this we want them to go as hard as they can.”
Now, Areando just has to take his advice and go enjoy himself by not getting in his own way.
Arenado has a small tattoo on his left forearm that says Matthew 19:26. The scripture reads:
“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’”
Faith is rarely discussed in professional sports, but for Arenado it’s an important piece to finding stability and finding the strength to face the grind of the long Major League season.
“When it comes to baseball I start to become a different animal. I start to just focus on the game. But my faith keeps me level headed. It makes me know that I have someone to rely on. It’s hard right now, especially with your body being tired. It’s not the same as what it was earlier in the year. I’m a little tired. Not tired but a little fatigued,” Arenado said who has played in 134 of 136 games this season. “I feel like it gives me peace of mind when things are going tough and when things are going good. Don’t get too high, don’t get too low.”
After winning, what Nolan Arenado strives for most is balance on the field. Whether that’s through hip-hop bangers, emulating immaculate players, or relying on his faith, Arenado is the epitome of consistency. That veteran presence is going to be essential for this youth movement going into 2017.
My, what a wonderful time.