D-backs' Paul Goldschmidt blushes over nickname: 'America's First Baseman'

LOS ANGELES – America's First Baseman swears he has no idea what he's batting, doesn't know exactly how many home runs he has hit, and couldn't tell you where he stands among the National League leaders in any offensive category.

"I don't read the paper," he says. "Well, I don't read the sports section."

And those enormous video boards? The ones with all the statistics and breathless bios?

"I purposely look away," he says.

Well, we have good news for Paul Goldschmidt.

(Look away now, Paul.)

Coming up on mid-June, Goldschmidt is about the best hitter in the NL. Certainly in the top five. All the numbers say so. All the scouts say so. In his third big-league season, his second full season, Goldschmidt, at 25, is hitting for average (.313), power (15 home runs) and timeliness (.433 with runners in scoring position.) He gets on base, he's more than happy to move a runner. He'll steal a base.

And, honestly, he'd rather not hear about any of it. He does what he does, goes home, turns around, comes back, does it again and keeps his head down, his eyes straight. That's the plan.

When the folks on television start to talk about what this Paul Goldschmidt is doing for the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks, he has commandeered the remote control and changed the channel. Eric Hinske refers to him as "Ivan Drago," the strong, silent man/machine from "Rocky IV." Diamondbacks relievers made up the whole "America's First Baseman" thing, put it on T-shirts, and practically brought Goldschmidt to a blush.

"I'm glad the guys have fun with it," Goldschmidt said, "but I'm not a big attention seeker."

His personal T-shirt went on a hanger in his locker and almost certainly will never see its owner's back.

The notion of the tall, broad, earnest and clean-cut Goldschmidt as America's First Baseman was born in the Diamondbacks' bullpen. A few of the relievers had watched the NFL draft, got to talking about the Dallas Cowboys – America's Team, once – and somehow, in the way things can only come together in the merging of idle cerebral cortexes in a bullpen, Goldschmidt became part boy next door, part superhero. The man (and his wife, Amy) volunteers at the local children's hospital. He's finishing his undergraduate degree – started at Texas State, interrupted by the 2009 draft – through online courses. And he's third in the league in WAR entering Wednesday.

"He could be a model American citizen," said reliever Josh Collmenter, part of the AFB posse.

With a grin, Collmenter admitted there was more to the T-shirts than just the T-shirts.

"Just to see his reaction," he said. "That's not the kind of guy he is. We had a good laugh."

And then Goldschmidt had to get to the batting cage. Or something. Probably. Reputed as a minor leaguer to be at best an average defender, he has steadily become an agile and reliable first baseman. A season after batting .257 against right-handed pitchers, he is batting .320 against right-handers. His teammates rave over his unwavering approach, his simple mechanics, mechanics that remind Hinske of Paul Molitor's, and his dedication to them.

"I think," Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson said, "he's taken two days off since the end of last season."

On the back of that, and an offense that runs reasonably well around him, and a pitching staff that's managed to keep itself together, the Diamondbacks have spent the past three weeks in first place. In a clubhouse not long ago known for having jettisoned Justin Upton, and on a club without a true superstar, there's one Diamondback who could draw Rookie of the Year votes (Didi Grigorius), another who could be a Cy Young Award winner (Patrick Corbin), and a possible MVP. That's Goldschmidt, who'd sooner gnaw through the barrel of his bat than entertain such talk.

He grew up outside Houston. His father, who sold flooring, was a Boston Red Sox fan. Goldschmidt and his two younger brothers became fans of the local Houston Astros, however, in the era of Bagwell and Biggio. That's when and where he began the grind, the swing mechanics that would become simpler, shorter, more powerful. And when and where he began the habits, the appreciation for the daily journey to four at-bats, and then the journey to forget them, good or bad.

"These have been the most consistent three months I've seen in my career," said Hinske, whose career goes back a dozen years. "We wouldn't have close to the same record without him."

He paused, spread his arms and grinned.

"It's really not that easy," he said.

There's an old ballpark saying Goldschmidt appreciates, that there are two kinds of ballplayers, and he recites, "Those who are humble, and those who are about to be."

So, he figures he'll skip the surprise element.

"You gotta remember that, especially if you're playing well," he says. "It'll come up and knock you down. The results are what they are. I focus on the stuff I can control."

Maybe that's a touch cliché, and Goldschmidt won't apologize for it. Actually, he will, because he's that nice. But he won't apologize for living it, for turning it into one good at-bat after another, then abiding by whatever they bring. It's nothing fancy, nothing flashy, not until he gets into the batter's box, and stands out at first base, and helps make the Diamondbacks go.

Exactly what you'd expect from America's First Baseman.

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