DUNEDIN, Fla. – The subject came up more than once during the postseason, in casual conversation, during formal interviews. Troy Tulowitzki, instead of savoring his first playoff appearance since 2009, dwelled upon getting blind-sided by his trade from the Rockies to the Blue Jays and admits now he was “still bitter” about it.
He talked openly about that bitterness, talked about how the Rockies promised to keep him in the loop and “man, that was the furthest from the truth.” At the time, I wondered whether Tulowitizki would ever move forward. But as I walked into the Jays’ spring-training clubhouse on Friday, I quickly discovered that he had.
“I was honest last year saying it was very tough for me,” Tulowitzki said. “And now I’m honest saying I’m over it.”
More than over it, judging by the way Tulowitzki joined in the banter with his teammates, who were alternately baiting Jose Bautista about his contract demands and teasing him about it. The Jays’ clubhouse can be a raucous place, and Tulo isn’t nearly as brash as the team’s biggest stars, Bautista and Josh Donaldson. But suffice it to say, he fits right in.
He actually fit last season as well, but it was a different experience, arriving in a late July trade, missing time after suffering a crack in his left shoulder blade on Sept. 12, struggling in the Division Series before produced some big hits in the ALCS, which the Jays lost to the Royals in six games.
Tulowitzki was part of it, and he wasn’t.
“When you go over to a new team, you want to be out there on the field with the guys, winning games,” Tulowitzki said. “They clinched (the AL East) when I was still banged up a little bit. Even though I got back for the playoffs, had some exciting moments, it was a little bit difficult for me at times. But it’s over with. Now I get to enjoy those guys.”
Tulowitzki didn’t feel like he was fully part of the Jays’ sucess last season.
Tulowitzki, 31, actually began that process during the offseason, talking and texting over the phone with his teammates, communicating with them on FaceTime, even hosting a few at his home. He said the conversations only reinforced that he was in the right place with the right players, “a group of guys that are just like me and care about winning.”
Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Ryan Goins, Chris Colabello, Kevin Pillar – Tulowitzki rattles off their names and says, “They know I love the game. They know I’m about winning. And those guys are baseball rats, really. It makes it fun.”
Jays officials note that Tulowitzki has grown particularly close with Donaldson, the reigning American League MVP. Donaldson, as I wrote late last season pushes his teammates relentlessly. According to one player, he would scream at Tulo, who was playing in the AL for the first time, “This is the big-boy league! This isn’t facing the Phillies at Coors Field!”
Tulowitzki said that Donaldson indeed motivates him.
“He brings it every single day. You have no choice,” Tulowitzki said. “He doesn’t let anybody get complacent. That’s what leaders do. That’s the reason he was the best player in the game last year. He brought it on a nightly basis. He likes to be outgoing. He likes to be loud. But he can back it up. When you can do that, you can do whatever you want, really.”
Tulowitzki laughed, then continued.
“We became close,” he said. “We both love the game of baseball. We love competing. He does it almost better than anybody I’ve ever played with, to be honest. You want him on your team. He might be that guy on the other team that irks you. But you love taking the field with him. He gets the best out of me.”
Donaldson said he was aware of Tulowitzki’s dissatisfaction with how his trade went down, but only through Tulo’s public comments. Tulo did not talk much to his teammates about the situation. Donaldson said he worked to make sure Tulowitzki was comfortable, but that, “Obviously, inside, he felt differently.”
So they talked and talked during the offseason, three times a week by Donaldson’s estimation.
Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson have become fast friends.
“I love him. He’s one of my best friends on the team,” Donaldson said. “He’s a guy you want on the team. He’s a guy who is a competitor. What’s special about him is that he’s a five-time All-Star, a franchise player, yet he’s still one of those guys who still wants to learn and get better. You don’t see that in a lot of guys who are already ‘the guy.’ ”
With the Jays, Tulo does not actually need to be “the guy,” which amounts to a refreshing turn for him from his days in Colorado. It’s not that he is unwilling to serve as a leader. It’s just that after 10 seasons in the majors, he prefers to be with a mostly veteran club, a club as hellbent as the Jays are on winning the World Series.
“It’s a different dynamic,” Tulowitzki said.
“Obviously, I was the guy to go to in Colorado, the guy to answer any question, take guys aside, go to a side field with them.
“I enjoyed that. But with where I’m at in my career now, you want it to be a little bit different, just worry about showing up to the yard with a bunch of veteran guys trying to accomplish one thing, and that’s win a World Series. That’s what I have here. It’s a good place for me in my career.”
A place where he is wanted. A place where he is welcome. A place where his teammates are eager to see him regain his past glory.
“I know how committed he was this offseason,” Colabello said. “I know how committed he is to identifying things in his swing that made him who he is his whole career. I’m looking forward for the world to see this guy play this year.”