Sitting in the stands at Coors Field on a beautiful Friday night, there were no less than three occasions when those in our group were dazzled by something Nolan Arenado did on the field. Grabbing a hard-hit ball barehanded, making pinpoint throws from foul territory, tossing the ball across his body to get the lead runner at second – it was one thing after another, from the start of the game to the last pitch.
It was Little League night at the ballpark, as kids from all across the Front Range had the chance to take a lap around the field prior to the game. So the exhibition being put on by the Rockies third baseman provided plenty of opportunities for coaches and parents to point out examples of how to play the game to a future generation of big leaguers.
After sharing a few observations with my own boys, and talking to a few other dads about the amazing display being put on in front of us, I felt compelled to share my thoughts about Arenado’s greatness on Twitter.
Nolan Arenado is just a joy to watch. Best Rockies player of all-time. A top-five player in Colorado sports history.
— James Merilatt (@jamesmerilatt) June 1, 2019
In part, this was meant to be a tip of the hat to the six-time Gold Glove winner; he’s a phenomenal player, one more than deserving of all sorts of kudos. But it was also meant as a reminder to Rockies fans; we’re spoiled by Arenado’s greatness, starting to take his amazing play for granted.
That’s human nature, of course. No matter the situation or circumstances, familiarity tends to dull one’s appreciation for something. It’s why we stop marveling at Colorado sunsets at some point; we take for granted that there will be another one tomorrow.
Slowly but surely, this is what Rockies fans are doing with Arenado. The first time we saw him make a magical play in the field, we came out of our seats with excitement. Now, we clap like the gallery during a Thursday round at a ho-hum golf tournament. We recognize the play, but we aren’t getting too worked up about it.
And that’s a shame.
The chance to witness true greatness is rare. To see it on a nightly basis with the hometown team is even more uncommon.
It’s what people in Chicago got to experience with Michael Jordan, hockey fans in Edmonton saw with Wayne Gretzky and baseball patrons in the Bronx witnessed with Derek Jeter. These superstars enjoyed extended periods of greatness, where they repeatedly made the extraordinary look routine.
That’s elite company. But that’s what Colorado fans are currently getting to enjoy with Arenado. He’s that good.
Not only is he the best third baseman of his generation, he’s in the conversation for the best to ever play the game. When it comes to playing the hot corner, Arenado’s name comes up with Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt and other all-time greats who are enshrined in Cooperstown.
But that’s only half of his mastery. Arenado is also a tremendous offensive player, consistently delivering at the plate.
On the season, the perennial All-Star is hitting .345 with 16 home runs and 52 runs batted in. And in the month of May, when the Rockies dug their way out of the 3-12 hole they found themselves in at the start of the season, he was even better, leading the National League in five major statistical categories to power Colorado’s resurgence.
This is nothing new, nor should it be surprising. In each of the previous four seasons, Arenado won a Silver Slugger award, was elected to the All-Star Game and finished in the top eight of the NL MVP voting.
Of all-time Rockies, only Todd Helton had a string of success that can begin to compare to that stretch. But his five-year run of All-Star appearances, Gold Gloves, Silver Slugger awards and MVP votes from 2000-04 doesn’t quite measure up to Arenado’s achievements. And the third baseman is only 28 years old, having built the best résumé in franchise history during just his first six seasons in the big leagues; there’s no telling how much more hardware he’ll add to his trophy case in the coming years.
Stats are just part of the equation. He’s also a great leader, having served as the cornerstone to Rockies teams that made postseason appearances in back-to-back seasons for the first time ever.
But at the end of the day, it’s not just the numbers and the winning that make Arenado special. He also has the “wow” factor unlike any player to ever don the purple pinstripes. For all of his greatness, even in the field, Helton never dove over the rolled-up tarp to snag a foul ball.
That’s why the conversation about Arenado extends beyond just the Rockies; he’s far surpassed other baseball players in Colorado sports history. Now, he’s competing with the all-time greats to play any and every game.
Is he really in the top-five to call the Centennial State home? That may have been a tad hyperbolic. After all John Elway, Peyton Manning, Terrell Davis, Shannon Sharpe and Von Miller were all instrumental in bringing Lombardi Trophies to town. By the same token, Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy brought Stanley Cups to the Mile High City.
But Arenado is in the same class as those superstars. He certainly belongs on the list with them, while a case can be made that he’s already surpassed some of those Colorado greats. Give him a few more years, especially if the Rockies can make a World Series run, and Arenado’s name will move higher and higher up the ledger.
Regardless, baseball fans in these parts need to take a moment to appreciate what they get to witness on a nightly basis. Greatness is rare, but it’s on display at Coors Field roughly 81 times per year.
That’s special, which is exactly the right word to describe Nolan Arenado.
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