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Tulowitzki commands respect once more

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

LOS ANGELES – You remember Troy Tulowitzki.

Big kid for a shortstop.

Really big arm.

Helped run that Rocktober thing from a couple years back, when he was a rookie, when the Colorado Rockies turned a few weeks of good ball into the best thing that ever happened to the organization.

Well, guess what? He's 24. A couple seasons later, he's playing on two good legs again, thinking about playing ball instead of when that quad might erupt again, playing that power game on both sides of the ball again.

And once again, there aren't but a shortstop or two in the game you'd take before you would Tulowitzki, who not only leans into every game he plays but also will do it at a more than reasonable cost over the next five seasons.

The guy with Jeter's number and Ripken's body and Dunston's arm, Tulowitzki took a full season off from the national consciousness. At about the time they were supposed to have become something, the Rockies fell out early in 2008, then had no kick and went mildly into a winter in which they traded Matt Holliday, their best player, and lost to injury Jeff Francis, once their best pitcher.

Tulowitzki went the way of the club. He tore his left quadriceps in late April, missed a good two months, and spent the last three months of the season being careful not to tear it again. He played in games that didn't matter for maybe the first time in his life. He was carrying around the first big contract (six years, $31 million) of his career. He tried to get out in front of it, tried to lead like he had in that incredible fall run in '07, but he was dragging a leg and, besides, no one could hear him from the trainers' room.

So the Rockies weren't a story anymore, and neither was the guy they call Tulo.

"Yeah," he said Friday afternoon, the Rockies in town to play the Dodgers, "everybody kind of forgot about us."

And, maybe, they forgot about him. He batted .327 in the second half but hit only five home runs. Shortstop, at times, looked a little big for him, instead of the other way around. He'd gone from the prototype shortstop – in the World Series year, his rookie year, he'd appeared to be one of the great athletes to come into the game in a long time – to another guy getting healthy, finding his way, grinding just a little too hard for his own good.

"Even when I wasn't struggling," he said, "I was going home mad."

Now the Rockies will need him to be that franchise player he was starting to look like – because maybe they don't have enough pitching to stay up with the rest of the NL West, and maybe they didn't get near enough back in that Holliday trade, and maybe more transition lies ahead because the organization went ahead and spent all that Rocktober currency with that one poor year.

Fortunately for them, Tulowitzki again seems to be sturdy enough for it. Though his batting average has been mediocre over the first couple weeks, he is getting on base and he is driving the ball to the middle part of the ballpark – good signs for him. Regardless of the numbers, he said, he's feeling like himself again for the first time in going on a year, and he figures the rest of it will come.

The rest, if you recall, meant 24 home runs, 99 RBI and a near .300 batting average in his first season, when he was runner-up to Ryan Braun (by two points) for National League Rookie of the Year, and should have won it.

So far, he's had that. And just that.

"I don't want it said that I only did it for one year," he said. "Part of that is getting back on track this year, showing that what I did was not a fluke, that I'm a pretty good player."

He'd like to stay upright. He'd like to stay inside the ball at the plate. He'd like the ball hit to him at short as much as possible. He'd like to restart that career of his, to turn the famous number and body and arm into his own game again.

In the opposing dugout, Joe Torre wasn't sure the game was entirely Tulo's.

"I'm watching Derek Jeter out there, a lot of the mannerisms of Jeter," he said. "Just bigger."

There isn't anyone who doesn't love what Tulowitzki looks like, or what he can be, where the skills might take him. Teammate Todd Helton likes that Tulo has narrowed his days to simply his part in them: "That game, that situation."

An American League scout said, "Troy, to me, is still the real deal," whether anyone's paying attention or not.

"People aren't talking about him as one of the elite players like they were a year and a half ago," the scout added. "He was on a bad team. He didn't play a third of the season. So he fell off the radar. Clearly, he's still one of the better young players in the game."

Leaning against his locker, Tulowitzki said he was glad it was all done – don't get him wrong. But, you know, it was not a year completely without value.

"Maybe," he said, "it was the best thing to happen to me. I learned a lot about myself. Maybe I had taken it for granted, playing baseball, getting to walk out onto a big-league field every day. I think I had lost my perspective a little bit. When it was taken away from me, it hurt."

Yeah, you'll remember Troy Tulowitzki.