This story originally appeared in Mile High Sports Magazine. Read the full digital edition.

Baseball season in Colorado has been over for nearly four months.

And Spring Training in Arizona is still four weeks away.

But Dave Turley of Aurora, Colo., a Rockies season ticket holder since the team’s inaugural year in 1993, is milling around the area of 20th and Blake. He’s enjoying what’s become an annual January tradition in Denver, Rockies Fest. It’s where fans of the Colorado Rockies – the real diehards – get to reconnect with their team before they head off to Scottsdale. It’s both a meet-and-greet and a sendoff.

For Turley, or any other fan for that matter, the Rockies look a little different these days. Gone is Todd Helton. Now, Troy Tulowitzki is gone. Aside from Carlos Gonzalez, who’s entering his eighth year with the club, the single most noticeable constant is something Turley doesn’t want to think about – the Rockies still aren’t winning.

But for now, that’s okay. And Turley doesn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that a No. 2 Rockies jersey is no longer en vogue at Coors Field. Most fans will be wearing No. 28, and Turley seems fine with what appears to be a passing of the torch.

“The kid is so talented and smart, however, the trait that impresses me the most is his humility,” says Turley. “Nolan Arenado will be that ‘face of the franchise’ soon, whether he wants that position or not. I feel he will not let the franchise nor the fans down in that role.”

“We love that people think of Nolan as the face of our franchise,” says Rockies manager Walt Weiss, “because you couldn’t have a better example.”

Beneath the street level, deep in the bowels of Coors Field and far below the sidewalk upon which Turley stands, there’s a constant cracking noise. It’s the sound of bat hitting ball, the rhythmic beat of batting practice. More specifically, it’s Arenado taking a few licks in the stadium’s indoor hitting facility.

Arenado is in town for Rockies Fest and to shoot TV promos for the upcoming season. It’s a busy few days that don’t offer much free time, yet the 24-year-old makes it a priority to slip into the batting cage to hone his craft between interviews and photo sessions.

Clad in a Lakers t-shirt, shorts, tights and a stocking cap, Arenado spends an hour or so taking cuts and working on the swing that helped him rake in the honors following the 2015 season. Sweat has begun to dot his furthest-thing-from-baseball shirt. The fact that he has a free 60 minutes and is in the cage doesn’t surprise those closest to him one bit.

“He’s a workaholic,” says Rockies hitting coach, Blake Doyle. “That’s his nature.”

Adds Weiss: “He can’t get any better as far as work ethic is concerned. He’s always trying to do more. There’s a relentless pursuit of greatness every single day from Nolan and he never wavers from that mentality.”

“He stays committed all the time,” Arenado’s offseason strength coach Scott Fricke reaffirmed. “Not everybody in the big leagues has the commitment to do the things you need to do every single day. It’s very easy to take days off and just say, ‘hey let’s mail this one in and I’ll be fresh tomorrow.’

“He doesn’t do that.”

The offensive numbers Arenado put up last season are impressive, starting with his 42 home runs – 24 more than the previous season and 22 of which came away from Coors Field. He tied with Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper for the NL lead in round-trippers, which was good for third overall. He also finished tops in the majors with 130 RBIs and 354 total bases and set the MLB record for extra base hits in a season by a third baseman with 89.

Arenado reached career-highs in hits (177), runs (97), doubles (43), OPS (.898) and games played (157); he finished with a solid .287 average, which was exactly where he ended in 2014.

That power surge in 2015 helped the right-handed hitting Arenado earn his first Silver Slugger Award.

He’s putting work in at the cage – in January – because that’s how he posted such a dream season at the plate; it’s how he’s started to emerge as a bona fide big-league hitter. Funny thing is, though, Arenado is a kid who had primarily been known for his defense.


April 14, 2015. Rockies vs. Giants, AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Bottom 8. Colorado has a 3-0 lead, but the Giants have runners at first and second with nobody out.

Gregor Blanco pops into foul territory down the third-base line.

Arenado goes into a full-on sprint, and with his back to the ball, makes a seemingly impossible over-the-shoulder catch while barreling into and up onto the tarp. Then, still on the tarp, Arenado has the presence of mind to whip it to third, from his knees, to try and get the force out. It was dangerous, doubtful and dicey, but was one of the greatest catches, of any era, that anyone had ever seen or will see. The catch was reminiscent of Derek Jeter in ’04, Willie Mays in the ’54 World Series.

After the game, Weiss, a former infielder himself said, “When that ball went up, [I thought] there’s no chance of making that play. [But] he’s done that so many times where you don’t think there’s a chance and he finds a way to pull it off.”

From the ROOT SPORTS TV booth, Rockies play-by-play man Drew Goodman bellowed: “There’s not gonna be a better play in baseball tonight, tomorrow, next week. Unbelievable. Alright, mail him the third Gold Glove.”

In the stands, fans – Giants fans – rose and offered thunderous applause.

On Twitter, comments from fellow players and media types poured in. Not surprisingly, Arenado’s catch was No. 1 on ESPN’s Web Gems that night and the talk of baseball for days.

In the grand scheme of the season, the catch proved insignificant. Jeter’s catch jobbed the Red Sox in extras at the height of the New York-Boston rivalry. Mays’ iconic grab happened in Game 1 of the World Series with the score tied in the eighth; the play effectively broke the Indians, who were ultimately swept. Arenado’s catch undoubtedly helped the Rockies win the game; it even helped keep a one-game lead atop the NL West. But, that was the highlight of the season. The next day was the last they would lead the division.

Still, Arenado’s catch could become significant. Should Arenado go on to become a tried and true face of the franchise – like Jeter, like Mays, like Tulowitzki or Helton – it might be the moment. His signature play. The one that put him on the map.


As a youngster, circus catches and kudos from baseball experts didn’t even seem possible for Arenado – especially considering the obstacles had to overcome on his way to the big leagues.

Growing up in Lake Forest, Calif., not many could have predicted that Arenado, a stocky infielder who lacked quickness and had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), would turn into a Gold Glove third baseman three times over.

Arenado was a shortstop in high school, but admits he wasn’t quick enough to play the position at a high level. He switched to third base for scout and travel ball, and the hot corner ultimately turned into his permanent home.

As a freshman, the only thing Arenado was concerned about was getting a college baseball scholarship. The following year, his focus shifted after seeing counterparts – like El Toro H.S. teammate, Austin Romine, who was a second-round pick of the Yankees in 2007 – get drafted. Following his sophomore season, Arenado got serious about playing baseball – professional baseball.

“From then on, I really worked hard and that’s when things started falling into place,” he says.

Arenado did earn that scholarship and committed to play baseball at Arizona State University, but opted to sign with the Rockies instead.

Yet even when the Rockies selected Arenado as a high school senior in the second round of the 2009 draft, there were some concerns about the 17-year-old.

“People didn’t think I was a very good third baseman,” Arenado says. “I knew I had the hands, but my feet were always bad and I was kind of overweight. I leaned out, I really worked on my feet agility and I guess from there it took off.”

Rather than take medication to treat his ADHD, it was the game that helped him channel his excess energy and emotion which had raised some concerns up to that point.

The evolution of Arenado becoming a standout fielder was gradual, and he continued to work hard in the minors perfecting his skills at third.

From 2009 to 2012, Arenado put in extra time with the glove, and the numbers showed it. Each season, he had steady increases in several important categories, including fielding percentage, total chances and double plays. During his time in the minors, a span of 415 games, Arenado committed just 75 errors in 1,246 chances.

Arenado anticipated a call-up in September of 2012, but the phone never rang.

In 2013, after an impressive big league camp, Arenado was disappointed yet again when he was sent to Triple-A to start the season. And it wasn’t that he wasn’t good enough – he was. The 17-game stall in the minors was more of a business decision; waiting to call him simply meant his arbitration “clock” would not begin ticking until the following year. He made his Major League debut on April 28, 2013, at the age of 22.

Arenado played in 130 games that year, and everyone took notice of his defense. He finished with excellent numbers including a .973 fielding percentage and just 11 errors in 411 total chances. His 3.08 range factor was an MLB best.

After the 2013 season, Arenado was rewarded for his outstanding play in the field as he became the first NL rookie third baseman to win a Gold Glove and first rookie overall to win a Gold Glove since 1957, the first year of the award.

Things were coming together for the youngster, and those questions about his glove and his makeup were long gone.

Despite missing 51 games with a broken thumb in 2014, Arenado turned in another stellar defensive season and won a second Gold Glove. He finished the year with just 15 errors in 364 chances and had a .959 fielding percentage. His range factor increased to 3.14, again the best in baseball.

That same season, Arenado’s offense began to catch up to his defense.

Arenado started the year with a 28-game hitting streak, which set a Rockies franchise record. During the stretch that began on April 9 (a week before Arenado’s 23rd birthday) he hit .360 and had 40 hits. Arenado’s record-setting run was the longest for anyone 23 or younger since Albert Pujols had a 30-game streak with the Cardinals in 2003 at age 23.

Then in 2015, everything clicked, and Arenado was firing on all cylinders.

The accolades appropriately poured in – a first-time All-Star, Silver Slugger, his third straight Gold Glove, the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year.

“He’s the best defender I’ve ever seen at that position,” said Weiss, who was an All-Star shortstop with the Braves in 1998. “This is my 25th year in the major leagues and I’ve never seen anybody like him at third base. If you took the best defensive tools from all the third basemen you’ve seen over the years and put them all into one, that’s what you get with Nolan.”

In addition to that praise, Arenado earned a well-deserved raise this January. He and the Rockies avoided salary arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $5 million contract; a significant increase from the $512,000 he made in 2015.

“I love the way he plays and the way he carries himself,” said 2014 AL MVP, Mike Trout, the face of the Angels. “He’s unbelievable with the glove. He’s robbed me a couple times when I’ve faced him. He’s definitely one of the best ones out there for sure.”


A big reason why Trout, 24, and Harper, 23, have each won MVP awards, Silver Sluggers, Rookie of the Year honors and had multiple All-Star appearances – and perhaps most importantly, are the faces of their respective franchise – is that they consistently put up ridiculous offensive numbers.

That is the next challenge for Arenado.

He certainly laid the foundation for that in 2015. But to be considered one of the best in the game, Arenado will need to build on that moving forward. Building and improving, however, are things he’s always done.

Even going back to his minor league career Arenado was a very productive hitter each step of the way. In 2011, Arenado was named MVP of the Arizona Fall League, a league which also featured Trout and Harper, who back then were highly touted young prospects. In Arenado’s last stop before the big leagues, he turned in another outstanding offensive performance at Double-A Tulsa in 2012 and was invited to play in the Futures Game for a second time.

But hitting in the minors and hitting in the big leagues are two very different things. It takes most players several years to adapt to major league pitching and situations, as well as manage expectations.

“Nolan goes up there with a plan and he’s able to stick to that plan,” said Weiss of Arenado’s development as a hitter – another testament to his strong work ethic. “When he was younger, once in awhile the game would speed up on him while he was in the batter’s box, but you don’t see that anymore. He’s very much in control of his at-bats and has the ability to execute that plan.”

Doyle says Arenado is starting to become a “professional hitter,” not just somebody who can hit.

“Nolan learned his swing where he is most successful, therefore he learned to discipline himself within that zone. He was very aggressive, but not overly aggressive. Nolan went out with the mindset of squaring the ball and hitting it hard, not trying to do too much. He reaped the benefits.”

Doyle also points out that Arenado has stopped tinkering with his swing and has identified “absolutes,” or things he needs to focus on, such as balance, staying behind the ball, using the whole field and slowing down the game.

Arenado credits staying healthy, establishing a routine and most importantly, working extremely hard year-round as big reasons for his success last season. But no one, not even Arenado himself, expected him to go deep 40-plus times.

Prior to last season, Arenado and Fricke each wrote down their predictions for a number of statistical categories, including home runs. Fricke put 35 and Arenado guessed 21.

“I was a little bit surprised by how many home runs I hit,” Arenado admitted. “I knew I could drive the ball out of the park and I knew if I found the right swing, I could be a home run threat. Forty-two is a lot of home runs and I don’t know if I could ever do that again in the major leagues, so it was a special year.”

Weiss and Doyle always knew the power was there, but they were also taken aback by Arenado’s offensive outburst.

“I didn’t know he could hit 40-plus home runs already in his career,” Weiss said. “That probably exceeded my expectations. But he’s a great hitter and he’s gotten stronger as he’s gotten older.”

Without question, a jump from 18 to 42 in a single season is an impressive feat, reflective of the work that Arenado is putting in.

Doyle reaffirms the importance of Arenado’s 22 home runs on the road – over half of his 42 – and that he’s “helping to dispel that ‘Coors Field thing.’”

“I feel like I’ve gotten stronger the last couple years through lifting weights and training, and I think growing up and becoming a man, too,” Arenado explains. “I’m only 24. I feel like there’s still a lot of room to grow and get better. I found a swing that I felt really comfortable with and I try to stay consistent with it.

“I really worked in the offseason and it paid off.”


Arenado says a lot of the credit goes to Fricke, who has played a significant role in his life, as both a strength and conditioning coach, as well as a very close friend.

The two met in the fall of 2011 through Arenado’s former agent, Scott Boras. At the time, Boras was trying to land Arenado as a client and Fricke worked as a strength coach for the Boras Sports Training Institute (BSTI) in Aliso Viejo, Calif. Fricke has since started his own training business, Akamai Performance in nearby Mission Viejo.

Right away, Fricke, 44, was impressed with Arenado’s desire to learn.

“He was a great question-asker,” Fricke recalls. “[He had an] insatiable appetite for baseball; [he asked] a lot of great baseball questions, even the mental aspects of baseball. That’s pretty advanced for a 20-year-old to be thinking that far along.”

Fricke and Arenado have been working together for four-and-a-half years and continue to do so today. During the offseason, they typically meet Monday-Friday at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo for roughly 60 training sessions throughout the offseason. Fricke emphasizes several important areas such as strength and conditioning development including power, speed, agility, and flexibility, mental skill development and nutrition education.

Fricke, who played shortstop on the University of Northern Colorado team that won a school-record 35 games in 1994, also serves as a mentor and confidant to Arenado. Fricke says the two are as close to being brothers as possible without sharing parents.

“If we don’t talk daily, it’s 5-6 times a week,” said Fricke. “[With me] he can put things in the vault that he knows will stay secure, whether they’re successes or frustrations. Often I find that Nolan reaches out to me just for affirmation and we talk about many more things than just baseball.”

Fricke, who watches all of Arenado’s games either in person or on TV, also admits that he likes to give his friend a different perspective.

“If he went 0-for-4 and says, ‘I can’t believe I had such a rotten game,’ I can say, ‘You saw 26 pitches today and you had three quality at-bats where you lined out or you moved a runner over. You don’t get credit for those.’ It’s hard in the midst of all the stress and pressure and bright lights to find that perspective on your own, so I think that’s where I offer him quite a bit.”

In addition to Fricke, Arenado has certainly had some other great teachers along the way, starting with his father, Fernando, who’s of Cuban descent, and mother, Millie. They helped instill a love of baseball, a strong faith and values such as humility and gratefulness into their middle son.

An ex-teammate that is like family to Arenado is former Rockies shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki, who was traded to Toronto last July. Regardless, the fellow infielders have remained close. Arenado says they talk on the phone almost every week, plus they text and speak on FaceTime frequently, as well.

From the beginning, Tulowitzki, then the face of the franchise, took to Arenado. During the offseason, the veteran invited his young third baseman to train with him and other big leaguers at “Camp Tulo,” an intense workout program that Arenado admits he was not ready for initially.

“He taught me how to get in shape, how to work hard and have a routine,” said Arenado. “He always used to say, ‘Routine, routine’ and I was always like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ Finally, I started doing it and things started working out. It was a great learning experience, seeing how he goes about his business, because I was nowhere near that. It definitely helped me.”

Arenado attended Camp Tulo three different times, once in San Jose and twice in Las Vegas, where Tulowitzki has a home. Arenado said now that he has established his own routine, he works with Fricke and other training staff during the offseason.

The former Rockies shortstop was famous for preaching hard work and routine; the Rockies are still reaping those benefits in the form of Arenado.


The fact remains, however, that like many Rockies before him, Arenado is still underappreciated, flying beneath the radar, especially on the national level.

A recent MLB Network computer ranking put Arenado as the sixth-best third baseman heading into the 2016 season.

“I was not too happy about that,” said Doyle.

The network claims the algorithm took into account a number of offensive and defensive metrics, both advanced and traditional, plus projections for 2016.

The players ranked ahead of Arenado: 1) Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays; 2) Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs; 3) Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers; 4) Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles; 5) Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers.

Denver Post Rockies beat writer Patrick Saunders has covered the team since 2005. He would have ranked Arenado as the second-best third baseman in the majors, behind Donaldson.

“Arenado might be a better fielder, but Donaldson had huge hit after huge hit and helped lift his team to the ALCS,” he said. From what Saunders understands, many MLB Network analysts thought Arenado should have been ranked higher, including former Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, who ranked Arenado second on his personal list.

Like Saunders and Lowell, Bob Nightengale, who’s been covering baseball for USA Today since 1998, would’ve picked Arenado as his No. 2 third baseman behind Donaldson. He had Arenado fourth for NL MVP behind Harper, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen. (Arenado finished eighth in NL MVP voting.) Nightengale adds that Arenado was, in his estimation, the best player in the majors from a non-contending team.

Nightengale believes most national media members are hung up on the “Coors Field factor” and that the Rockies haven’t been competitive in several years. In Arenado’s first three big-league seasons, the team has lost 88, 96 and 94 games.

Saunders vehemently agrees: “Arenado plays in the forgotten time zone and too many national guys don’t do their homework and don’t know enough about him. Plus, the Rockies continue to be a bad team, and that works against Arenado.”

Even Nightengale admits that he hasn’t seen much of Arenado because the Rockies have struggled so much. He typically sees Arenado during Spring Training but rarely in the regular season. Meanwhile, Saunders, who watches the Rockies on a daily basis, believes Arenado is “definitely one of the top five position players in the majors.”

When asked if Arenado deserves to be in the conversation with Harper and Trout, Nightengale says another good season should do the trick.

“Harper was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16 and everyone knows what Trout did right away, so it takes a little bit of buildup,” he says. “Now he’s got the buildup. If he produces a similar type of season, I think people will wake up and realize how good a player he is.”

The recognition Trout and Harper receive doesn’t bother Arenado. He feels his time will come if he keeps performing at a high level.

“I think people know that I can play the game,” said Arenado. “Those guys earned that exposure. I’m starting to earn it and the teams they play on, they win. When you’re winning, there’s more attention, and that’s what we’re trying to do here. Not for the publicity, but so we can win a championship and bring the city of Denver something special.”

There’s little doubt that Arenado can and will assume the role of face of the franchise – the spot made available with the trade of Tulowitzki to Toronto. But becoming a “face of MLB” is another notion all together.

“I think he has to be in that conversation,” said Weiss, who’s entering his fourth season as Rockies manager. “Nolan’s up there with the great young players in the game right now, there’s no doubt about it. [But] we need to win, too, [because] we’re not covered maybe as closely as some of the other teams and we’re a team on an island in a way.”

Interestingly and somewhat contradictory to the third basemen rankings, MLB Network also put out its “Top 100 Right Now” at the end of February; there, Arenado ranked No. 23 overall, one spot ahead of Beltre, who was the third-best third baseman (and Arenado’s favorite player growing up as a Dodgers fan). Bryant came in at No. 19, Machado was No. 8 and Donaldson ranked No. 5 overall. And strangely, Turner was the No. 84 ranked player in baseball, yet somehow he finished one spot ahead of Arenado in the third basemen ranking.

The ranking criteria included stats from last three seasons (with an emphasis on 2015), projected 2016 performance, defensive position and accolades.

For the record, 2015 NL MVP Harper came in at No. 2 on the list, and Trout, who in his first four-plus seasons in the majors has an MVP award (plus three runner-up MVP finishes), four All-Star appearances, four Silver Sluggers and a Rookie of the Year award, was named the No. 1 player on the “Top 100 Right Now.”

Don’t expect Arenado to be out campaigning for himself or picketing in front of the MLB Network studios anytime soon, though. When it comes to self-promotion, Arenado doesn’t have a clue how to do it, nor does he care to.

“I’m kind of a shy person,” he admits. “I’m not really into social media. I don’t have Instagram or Twitter. I try to mind my business. I just have one goal: To play hard and help the team win. I appreciate the love and support for what I do on the field, but I try not to focus on those things.”

No Instagram or Twitter? Certainly not typical from someone in their mid-20s. In a world where more “followers” and “likes” can often mean more fame and fortune, Arenado, who turns 25 on April 16, lets his play do the talking.

“It means a lot to me to be out there,” he said. “I don’t take it for granted. I’m very fortunate and blessed to be in the position I’m in and I try to take advantage of it as much as I can.”


Weiss has high hopes for his All-Star third baseman this season, but cautions that expectations need to be realistic.

“What I do know is that Nolan’s gonna go out and be a great player for us again,” Weiss said. “I don’t know what the numbers are gonna be at the end of the year; I’m not really concerned with that, but he’s gonna provide us with elite defense at third and he’s an elite player offensively for us.”

Opposing pitchers are well aware of what Arenado is capable of. There will be added pressure to repeat or even exceed what he accomplished last year.

“I think he might put up better all-around numbers,” Saunders says. “I bet he wins his fourth consecutive Gold Glove and I would see him leading the NL in RBIs again, but I think it will be difficult for him to hit 42 homers again.”

Replicating or even improving upon his 2015 production is important. But that’s not what’s most important for Arenado.

“As a kid, you don’t think about Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers,” he admitted. “You want to win a World Series. Winning is something that drives me and it’s something that I’m really focused on – just trying to bring a winning atmosphere here.”

The Rockies have finished well below .500 in each of Arenado’s first three seasons in Denver. He doesn’t take that lightly.

“We lost a lot of games,” says Arenado. “I’m not okay with that. Hopefully, sooner or later, we can turn things around. I think as a collective group there are guys that need to step up, including myself.”

One can’t blame Arenado for wanting to win, especially when he sees guys like Trout and Harper enjoying team and individual success. The former faces of the Rockies experienced team success in limited quantities – Helton at the end of his career and Tulowitzki at the beginning of his. Tulowitzki finally had another taste again last year, only after being traded.

Arenado is eligible to become a free agent after the 2019 season, but he’s not concerned with that at the moment.

“I love Denver, I love playing here,” Arenado says. “I’m under contract and I want to win. That’s something that’s important to me. I have no comment on the long-term. This is the organization that brought me up and this is something that I take pride in, trying to bring a winning team here.”

Only Arenado and Fricke know what numbers they put down as goals for 2016. Even Weiss doesn’t know at this point if the Rockies will have their first winning season since 2010. But one thing they do know is that Arenado is quickly becoming – or might already be – the face of the franchise. It’s a role that the 24-year-old is ready to accept.

“I appreciate it. If anything, it makes me work harder,” he says. “If people are going to label me as the ‘face,’ I’m going to take it with pride and work hard and make sure I do my best to help the team win.”

That should give Turley and all Rockies fans plenty to cheer about in 2016.