The applause started as soon as Troy Tulowitzki walked to the plate.
The longtime Colorado Rockies shortstop sauntered up to the batter’s box in the second inning of Monday’s game in a Toronto Blue Jays jersey. It was the first time he’d been back at Coors Field — the first time he’d taken an at-bat there — since a trade sent him away 11 months ago.
The Coors Field crowd of 36,419 stood on their feet and clapped and cheered for the better part of a minute. It was a nice moment — a crowd showing its appreciation for one of the best players in franchise history.
Then Tulowitzki went down swinging. The at-bat was part of a difficult day in a difficult year. He went 0-for-4 at the plate to drop his batting average to .214. The Rockies’ present and future — rookie shortstop Trevor Story — made even less of an impact than Tulowitzki in the Rockies’ 9-4 win over the Blue Jays; he sat out the game due to a swollen finger. But it was hard to leave Coors Field on Monday without feeling Colorado is fortunate to have a shortstop like Story less than a year after the team traded away Tulowitzki.
Story has been a revelation this season. In 72 games, he’s smacked 18 doubles, 19 home runs and 50 RBIs while providing some stellar defense at the position Tulowitzki used to inhabit. Meanwhile, Tulowitzki has struggled. His batting average is by far the worst of his career, and he’s slugging .432. He’s 31 years old and earning $20 million this season. Story is 23 and getting paid a little more than $500,000. The Rockies are still backing the Brinks truck up for shortstops because of the Jose Reyes ordeal, but Story has helped ease that financial burden.
“It (the trade) was tough because people like him here,” said right fielder Carlos Gonzales, who smacked a three-run home in the sixth that got Colorado back in the game. “He (Tulowitzki) spent a lot of years here. But that’s life. Life changes so fast, you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. But at the same time we have a young player who’s playing in his spot, and he’s doing great things.”
It’s unlikely that Story would be in this position — fifth in the MLB in home runs, tied for third in extra-base hits — if the deal that sent Tulowitzki to Toronto for Reyes and three pitching prospects never went through. Tulowitzki would block Story from playing short no matter how large the divide betwen his salary and batting average grew. Story only stumbled into the starting gig when Reyes, now gone back to the Mets, got suspended for a domestic violence incident. It was an odd situation for a young ballplayer to be in, but Story has thrived.
Before Monday’s game, Tulowitzki was asked about what he wanted his legacy in Colorado to be. Tulowitzki had an interesting response: “When I got drafted here, a lot of people said, ‘These guys are terrible, this team sucks, you don’t want to be a Rockie. … That immediately lit a fire in me. I wanted it to be cool to be a Rockie. I wanted free agents to sign here. I wanted it to be a place where you can win, and pitching wasn’t always the problem.”
I wanted it to be cool to be a Rockie.
Tulowitzki did make it cool to be a Rockie, perhaps nationally but most definitely in Colorado. And judging by the media attention he’s gotten, the number of All-Star votes he’s racked up or just the sheer number of No. 27 jerseys that dot Coors Field on any given night, Story is also making it cool.