“You’ve got to ride the wave’’
Nolan Arenado, 10 years into his career, reflects on his MLB debut, the lessons he’s learned, and all those Gold Gloves
Shortly after becoming the first National League third baseman to win a Gold Glove as a rookie, Nolan Arenado established the parameters that would help define his career. “I want to be a complete player,’’ he said in a spring training interview in 2014.
It would be an understatement to call that declaration, well, an understatement. Last year Arenado bagged his 10th Gold Glove, tying him with Mike Schmidt for second most at his position behind Brooks Robinson, who has 16. His resume includes five Silver Slugger awards, three home run titles and seven All-Star appearances with the Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals, and he recently became the 15th third baseman in history with 300 homers. He has more than fulfilled his objective to be elite on both sides of the ball.
Arenado attained another career milestone in April when he joined the small percentage of players to accrue 10 years of MLB service time. He reflected on the achievement in a conversation with the MLBPA. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What does 10 years of service mean to you personally?
When I was a rookie and I got called up to the big leagues, my thought process was, ‘I want to make the big leagues. I want to stay in the big leagues, and I want to pay for my parents’ house when I can. And after I'm done with that, I want to make sure I get to 10 years.’ It's such a big thing. It happened so fast, I can't believe I'm sitting here talking about it right now. You want to make money and hit a lot of homers and all that. But you do that by spending a lot of time in the big leagues. And I really believe that was my goal -- to try to get 10 years.
Do you hear other players talking about it a lot?
There’s the pension and making sure you'll be taken care of when you're done playing. Obviously, the money nowadays is kind of crazy. But for me it was 10 years. As I kept going, I started playing better, and there were different things I was chasing. But when I was a young player, the veteran players always used to say, ‘If you can get 10 years in the big leagues, that means you did something.’’ It was a main thing guys talked about.
Your MLB debut came on April 28, 2013 at Chase Field in Phoenix. What do you remember?
The day I got called up I was in Triple A. We got snowed out in Colorado Springs and we flew to Tucson to play the Padres’ team there. Glenallen Hill was our manager and I went up to him and I was like, ‘Dude, why am I not playing again?’ And he was like, ‘Sorry, I can't play you yet.’ He didn't really explain why, but there were like three or four days off at the beginning of the season. I was super mad at him. I was like, ‘Man, I need the at-bats. I feel good and I want to maintain this good feeling.’
My parents came out to visit me because Tucson was only a six-hour drive. I didn't play and I was mad. We went to go eat dinner, and Glenallen called me and said, ‘I need to talk to you about something. I need you to come to my room right now.’ We had ordered food, but we just paid and didn’t eat it and left. Then Glenallen told me I was getting called up to the big leagues.
We drove down from Tucson to Phoenix. Me and my mom were in this nice black SUV the Rockies got for us, and the driver was dead tired. We thought, ‘This is kind of sketchy,’ so we told him to pull over and go home. We unpacked the car, and my dad picked us up and took us all the way to Phoenix, and that was it. (Troy Tulowitzki) met me in the lobby, and I played the next day.
What did Tulo say when he met you in the hotel lobby?
He was like, ‘Hey man, congrats. Welcome. Now it starts.’
What do you recall about your first two games? You went 0-for-3 against the Diamondbacks and 3-for-6 with a home run the next game at Dodger Stadium.
The first game, obviously, the nerves. I couldn't sleep at all that night, so I don't know how much I had left in the tank. Then going home to LA and having 30-plus family members there and hitting a homer in front of them. Getting my first big league hit was an unbelievable feeling. And to do it in the stadium where I grew up watching games. The Dodgers were my favorite team, and we won the high school title there, which was pretty cool. I was just happy to get it done and see my family afterwards. That was pretty special.
Looking back, which veteran players influenced you the most early in your career?
For me, the veterans were Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzki, (Carlos Gonzalez). Jason Giambi was a big help. Justin Morneau came in after my rookie year and I enjoyed watching his routine. Those guys all helped me. First off, they were all great baseball players and they were so good about their routines and the confidence that they had. I didn't have that at that young age. I just watched the way they went about it, and I learned a lot from that because that's how you survive up here. You have to be confident in what you do. You have to have a good routine, and you’ve got to stay on the field. Those guys were able to do it, and I was always amazed by that.
You spent eight years in Colorado and experienced the business side of the game when you were traded to St. Louis in 2021. Was that a bit of an awakening, or just part of the learning process?
I think as you get older, you learn things from the business side. There are some things you don't really want to know, but they get brought up because of money and contracts and all these things. As a younger player, I never thought about any of these things. But when you start playing well, they start to come up because there's a big investment. There are things you see and conversations that you have, and it's a little different. It's just part of the business.
I'm thankful for Colorado. I got to meet a lot of people there that I love and still talk to today, even in the minor leagues. I still talk to friends that I have -- people that helped me become a better baseball player and a better man. St. Louis is the same way. There are great people here that I love. I'm really thankful for both.
If you could go back and talk to an 18-year-old Nolan Arenado, what advice would you give him?
One thing I would probably tell myself when I was 18 is, ‘Just constantly take care of yourself. Make sure you feel as fresh as you can.’ I wouldn't say I took it for granted, because I definitely played all the time. But I wish I would have made sure I was always trying to feel fresh. You play so many games in a season, you don't need to stress and freak out about one bad game. I was a little hard on myself and I would get upset about a game, and I think that's draining. There are so many games, you’ve got to ride the wave. I feel like if I did a little better job of that, I would have been even better as a young player.
You have 10 Gold Gloves. Do you need a separate room for them?
I have them all in one place. I take care of them, for sure, and I'm really proud of every single one of them. They're not easy. There are lot of great players out there and a lot of great third basemen, so it feels good to win them. I know there’s going to be a time and place where I’m not going to win them, so I enjoy them and take pride in winning them. I’m very thankful that I've been able to stay out on the field every day and earn those things.
Your first hit was an infield single against the Dodgers. Have you saved a lot of mementos from milestone moments through the years?
For sure, I have all those things. They’re all framed. They're in little clear boxes, so you can see the writing on them. I love every single one of them.
I love the game of baseball, so it's not just my memorabilia. I have some really cool jerseys. Clayton Kershaw. Brandon Crawford. Buster Posey. (Paul Goldschmidt). Mike Schmidt. There are a lot of players I really admire in this game. Aaron Judge and DJ LeMahieu. I appreciate them and I enjoy the way they go about their business. Those guys and a lot of other guys pushed me to become a better baseball player.
An estimated 6-8 percent of players in MLB history have reached 10 years. Do you have to wrap your mind around that, and how much does it add to the significance of the achievement?
It's a big deal. There's a sense of pride, and a sense of group that you feel you're a part of. Adrian Beltre was one of my favorite players. Matt Holliday. I’m not them, because those guys were great players. But to be able to say I did things like them is pretty cool. It’s special to be a part of that group. And when I'm done playing, it will be cool when they talk about me and they say, ‘He played 10-plus years in the big leagues.'