Goldschmidt firmly entrenched as superstar, even if no one notices
PHOENIX — Brad Ziegler was stationed in the Arizona bullpen when Paul Goldschmidt’s home run struck the Chase Field video board on Wednesday night, a shot later measured at 470 feet, the fourth-longest homer in the major leagues this season.
Asked about it, Ziegler chuckled.
"You kind of sit there and look and say, ‘Omigosh, did that just happen?’" Ziegler said Thursday. "You look at each other like are you kidding me. We all know he is strong, but that’s just obscene."
The shot made the ESPN and the MLB Network highlight shows, with accompanying reverence.
Scoreboard-denting, teammate-gasping, epic home runs are hardly a recipe for anonymity.
Yet even after his runner-up finish in the NL MVP voting in 2013 and his strong start again this year, Goldschmidt continues to be a top contender for the most anonymous superstar in the majors. He still seems to be flying under the radar, as the latest NL All-Star balloting released Thursday indicated. Goldschmidt is fifth among first basemen, behind Justin Morneau and Brandon Belt among others.
It may have something to do with Goldschmidt’s locale. Phoenix is not a major media market, and the Diamondbacks’ slow start this season dropped them off the early-season radar.
Also, his style is non-heat seeking.
No bat flips.
No Twit pics.
Entering Thursday’s games, Goldschmidt led the majors with 32 extra-base hits, was tied for the major league lead with 22 doubles and along with Milwaukee outfielder Carlos Gomez was one of two major leaguers with at least 15 doubles and 10 homers. Goldschmidt was in the top 10 in the NL in slugging percentage and WAR.
"He is, if not the best, at least one of the five best hitters in the league, " Ziegler said. "Even when he hits a little rough patch, you look up and his average has dropped to .306. OK, he’s struggling now, because he is not hitting .320."
The numbers are at a pace similar to Goldschmidt’s breakout 2013 season, when he hit 36 homers and led the NL in RBI, slugging percentage, extra-base hits, OPS and total bases. And won a Gold Glove.
Even as this production proceeds, Goldschmidt is doing things a little differently this season. Pitchers are attacking him in different ways, so he has adjusted his hitting approach accordingly.
"Nothing drastic," Goldschmidt said. "We all have that swing we are trying to get to. We’re not robots. You can’t just press a button and it all comes out the same. Every day is different. Sometimes it is timing. Sometimes it is mechanics. Sometimes it is a mental approach. It’s never the same from day to day, week to week. You are always trying to find a way to have success that day or give yourself a chance to have success. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t."
Whatever you do, do not tell Goldschmidt he has arrived.
"No," he said.
"You have to go out and prove yourself every day, for as long as they are going to let you play. This game definitely is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately game. You want to help your team and do the best you can. Yes, last year was good, and maybe I have started out this year good, but that can change in a hurry. As soon as you think you have it figured out. It is a humbling game, and it can knock you down. You don’t take anything for granted."
When Manny Ramirez returned to Boston last weekend, he apologized for his occasional lack of professionalism with the Red Sox.
That is a speech Goldschmidt never will have to make.
Manny being Manny was about distraction and dysfunction.
Paul being Paul is so not that.
"I don’t know if flamboyant is a word you could use to describe a single thing that he has ever done," Ziegler said.
Added second baseman Aaron Hill: "He brings his briefcase to work every day. He does everything right. Very professional, which is refreshing."
Away from the spotlight it’s no different, Ziegler said: "Sitting. Hanging out. Talking. But not talking a lot. A lot more listening than talking. Just kind of hiding under the radar. It’s tough to do, as talented as he is, but for the most part he doesn’t do anything other than his playing ability to attract attention to himself."
Eric Chavez echoed that sentiment: "He doesn’t care if people are noticing him as long as he is respected by his teammates. He plays the game the right way. I don’t think he minds if he walks right by you and nobody notices him.
"As an organization, I think they are very thankful to have Paul at the head of the ship."