• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Nightengale's Notebook: Troy Tulowitzki latest former MLB player to find home in college baseball

·14 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Troy Tulowitzki never got his Driveline Baseball Coaches certificate.

He never bothered to get certified by Rapsodo, either.

He doesn’t use Blast Motion technology, Edgertronic cameras or compute your launch angles.

Tulowitzki is relying on his experience and intellect as a five-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner during his 13-year MLB career to help the development of young players.

This is a guy that should have been swooped up by one of 30 organizations to help players develop in their minor-league systems, but instead, you can find him working for free at the University of Texas.

Tulowitzki, 36, uprooted his family from Las Vegas and moved to Austin two years ago and is in his second year as the infield and co-hitting coach for the third-ranked team in the country.

“At the end of my career, all of these numbers and analytics were getting to be too much,’’ Tulowitzki told USA TODAY Sports. “I wanted something different. I always loved the college game, and getting them young, knowing the impact you can have on kids.’’

Really, it’s everything professional baseball isn’t these days in the minor leagues.

“Unless the game changes soon, and I get to write out my own lineup and make calls from the bullpen, I think I’ll stay right here,’’ Tulowitzki says. “You get (to) think about the game without having everything dictated by a computer. The game has changed so much, the players are better, and more skillful, but they lose the baseball sense. It’s embarrassing to see it.

“This is old-school. This is what baseball is about. I’m not going to sit there working for a team and be fake knowing it’s not the way the game should be played. The ending of my career was kind of bad for me, now I have that joy again.’’

Tulowitzki is among the latest of a growing number of former MLB players who have joined the collegiate ranks. There’s Matt Holliday and Robin Ventura at Oklahoma State. Tim Hudson and Gabe Gross at Auburn. Troy Percival at UC Riverside. Andy Stankiewicz at Grand Canyon. Chris Sabo at the University of Akron. Tracy Woodson at Richmond. And long-time head coaches Scott Bradley at Princeton and John Stuper at Yale.

“What Tulo is saying is 100% accurate,’’ says Bradley, who had a nine-year career in the major leagues and is in his 24th year at Princeton. “You can coach. You can impart your wisdom. You can help these young student athletes develop in all areas of their life.’’

But in the minors, where 67% of the plate appearances in a recent three-game series in the California League resulted in strikeouts, you rarely find experienced major-league players to lend their expertise.

“Experience has been completely negated by front offices,’’ says Bradley. “It’s all about what certifications they have. Are they Rapsodo and Drive Line certified? They’re getting completely away from anybody with experience.

“I look around, and there’s all these new sophisticated, high-tech job titles. They have a director of offensive creation and run prevention. Quality insurance coaches. There are computer science analysts being hired who never played baseball in their lives to help interpret and run algorithms.

“This is crazy. It’s baseball. It’s not a science experiment.’’

And you wonder why Tulowitzki and former big-league players are flocking to the collegiate ranks, much to the delight of the most powerful baseball programs in the country.

“It’s very cool, very humbling to see what Troy is doing,’’ says Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin, who Tulowitzki frequently uses as a sounding board. “He’s a very curious, a very learning spirit, and is very interested to understand things.

“He really has a teacher’s spirit and soul. I love that.’’

There’s also automatic respect when Tulowitzki and these former big-leaguers walk onto a baseball field. There’s not a line of kids hanging around the field to get the autograph of Texas head coach David Pierce, but, oh, how they wait every day with a ball and pen for Tulowitzki.

“It’s been awesome to have him,’’ Pierce says. “From Day 1 with Tulo, it was all about getting back on the field and working with the players. It’s so refreshing to see his throwback mentality. He has just brought another level of mentality and understands the commitment to work.

“I don’t know what the future holds for him, but I do believe he could do whatever he wants to do in baseball.’’

Pujols power

Was it really only two weeks ago when the Los Angeles Angels dumped Albert Pujols, leaving the baseball world wondering whether he’d get a job?

Well, here he is, wearing a blue uniform instead of a red one for the first time in his professional career, and already playing a valuable role in the Dodgers’ resurgence. They haven't lost since Pujols began wearing their uniform five games ago.

Pujols chatted this week with USA TODAY Sports during his 40-minute commute to Dodger Stadium, saying he feels like a kid again, full of energy and life.

Los Angeles Dodgers' Albert Pujols hits a two-run home run against Arizona on May 20.
Los Angeles Dodgers' Albert Pujols hits a two-run home run against Arizona on May 20.

“I’m so happy, so blessed that the Dodgers gave me this opportunity,’’ Pujols said. “I’m going to do my best to help them win another championship whether I’m playing first, pinch-hitter, or just helping out the young guys.

“Really, that’s the legacy I want to leave behind. The World Series championships and all of the home runs [668] are great. But when people ask how do you want to be remembered, I say I want people to say that I was a good teammate, helping out these young players.’’

Pujols declined to revisit his final hours with the Angels, and didn’t want to reiterate the message he left after talking about manager Joe Maddon in his exit interview with general manager Perry Minasian and president John Carpino. He also doesn’t want to rehash the debate whether he preferred to be released than accept a bench role with the Angels.

Whatever resentment there was, he insists there are no hard feelings now. He called Mike Trout this week and told him that he was praying he would have a speedy recovery from his strained calf that’s expected to sideline him until July. And he still believes Shohei Ohtani will be better off if he abandons pitching one day and becomes strictly a hitter.

“That’s the thing with Ohtani,’’ he said, “do you want to see him hit or pitch? I want to see him hitting. I think he can hit 40 homers. But you put him on the mound, and you’re taking a chance he’s going to get hurt.’’

Well, it’s not Pujols’ worry any longer. He is focusing only on the Dodgers. Pujols, the oldest player to bat cleanup in his first game for a new team in 105 years, according to STATS, is hitting .267 with a homer and four RBI in his first week.

“I think Albert would argue that he’s more energized by being a Dodger and being around his teammates,’’ Dodgers manager Dave Roberts says. “Seeing the conversations, his joy around the ballpark, his tone, I know he’s kind of revitalized. He’s been with a couple of ballclubs in his career, but this is a resurgence.”

Pujols’ first choice was a reunion with the St. Louis Cardinals, but since they had no need with Paul Goldschmidt entrenched at first base, this is working out quite nicely.

“There were a few teams that showed interest,’’ Pujols said, “but this was the best option for me. I know I made the right decision.

“The only thing that’s strange is this uniform. I’ve worn a red uniform for 21 years, and now I’m in blue.

“You know what, blue looks pretty good on me.’’

This week in Ohtani …

While the baseball world is going crazy over Shohei Ohtani’s freakish talents, putting on a two-way show no one has seen since the days of Babe Ruth, a man in Southern California sits home and can feel awfully proud.

Former Angels general manager Billy Eppler, who beat everyone in the worldwide recruiting of Ohtani and refuses to take any credit, envisioned this when he signed him out of Japan in 2017.

NO-HITTERS: Are teams twice victimized really that bad? Pretty much.

BOB NIGHTENGALE: With six no-hitters already, feat is losing its importance

“I really believe [Mike] Trout had an influence,’’ Eppler told USA TODAY Sports. “He wasn’t in the room but called in on FaceTime and it was awesome to be a part of that. Something I’ll never forget.’’

And now, watching his dominance at the plate and on the mound?

“We were confident that whatever he did, it was going to be loud," Eppler said. "He swings the bat with bad intentions, creating tremendous impact, and he throws fuel on the mound with silly off-speed weapons.

“Couple those tools with elite competitiveness, and the sky’s the limit.’’

So, sit back and enjoy the show, just like Eppler.

Mattingly's candid no-no talk

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly is frustrated with the woeful offense in today’s game, highlighted by six no-hitters before Memorial Day, a .236 league-wide batting average, a .312 on-base percentage, a .393 slugging percentage, 7.98 hits and 8.98 strikeouts per team, and a 24.1% strikeout rate, the highest ever.

“It’s great for your team when a guy throws a no-no, it’s great for that guy,’’ Mattingly says. “It’s a great accomplishment. But when there’s so many, so early, strikeouts at an all-time high, it tells you there are some issues within the game that need to be addressed.

“They’re going to take awhile. This started 15, 16 years ago with the swing changes and the philosophy changes, with all of the analytics of the 3-run homer and all that stuff, so it’s been coming. And its been building. And now we’re at a point I think it gets so much more attention because it’s just a game that sometimes is unwatchable.

“You see guys [that] you talk to, they don’t even like watching games because there’s nothing that goes on in them.’’

Mr. No-hitter

It’s crazy to think that Seattle Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager already has been involved in nine no-hitters in his career:

2012: Phillip Humber, Chicago White Sox

2012: Mariners, combined

2012: Felix Hernandez, Mariners

2015: Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners

2018: James Paxton, Mariners

2019: Los Angeles Angels, combined

2019: Houston Astros, combined

2021: John Means, Baltimore Orioles

2021: Spencer Turnbull, Detroit Tigers

It’s the most no-hitters anyone has witnessed with one organization.

Sheer dominance

He has never thrown a no-hitter, or even a complete game, but there is no more dominant pitcher on the planet these days than Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman.

He merely has struck out 36 batters in 18 innings, yielding only five hits, and still hasn’t given up an earned run.

New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman is the most dominant closer in the game right now.
New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman is the most dominant closer in the game right now.

He is on pace for the greatest strikeout rate in baseball history for pitchers with at least 50 innings.

Whose record will he break?

His own. He struck out 17.7 batters per nine innings in 2014.

Rare company

There are only five players in baseball history who have hit more than 500 homers and never struck out more than 100 times in a season.

Say hello to Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Mel Ott, Ted Williams and Albert Pujols.

Perhaps even more stunning, there are only three active players with at least 150 homers who never struck out 100 times in a season.

Pujols: 668 homers

Yadier Molina: 166 homers

Pablo Sandoval: 153 homers

Around the basepaths …

►Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto says it’s time for MLB to crack down on pitchers using foreign substances if it really wants offense to improve. “I think the substance issue is real,’’ Realmuto says. “I think pitchers are using a lot more substances now than they have in the past. Not just a lot more, but it’s been more effective than it has been. Guys are increasing their spin rate. That’s why there’s so many walks and strikeouts every game because guys are just letting it rip with all the spin. It’s harder to control but also harder to hit. … I think if they cracked down on that, that would honestly help the offense a lot, get the ball in play more often, and less swing and miss.”

►While pitchers are flirting with no-hitters night after night, it’s crazy that we still haven’t had a perfect game since Felix Hernandez hurled one for the Mariners on Aug. 15, 2012. It’s the longest perfect-game drought in baseball since the 13-year gap between Catfish Hunter on May 8, 1968 and Len Barker on May 15, 1981.

►The most stunning aspect of wild pitches being at the highest point (0.42) per game in the modern era? You have to be on base to even throw a wild pitch, and no one is getting on base.

►Former catcher Erik Kratz said it wasn’t just the Houston Astros, but the Colorado Rockies and several other teams who were cheating during the 2018 season. Kratz played for the Brewers that season and said the Rockies stopped cheating by the time they met in the NL Division Series. “They used to take a Theragun and bang it on their metal bench, and they were doing the exact same thing," Kratz said in an interview on the YES Network’s podcast. “If you think no one else was doing it, you are wrong. The difference is, the Astros may have taken it a little too far. … Maybe continued to do it. Or maybe it’s just the fact that they won the World Series and everybody’s [angry] about that.”

►Speaking of the Astros, there was only one team that wanted former Astros outfielder Josh Reddick this winter, and that was the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was called up last week and said he will keep playing until they tear the uniform off his back. “I want to play as long as I can, whether it be 40, 42, 43, 44, until my body tells me I can’t do it,” the 34-year-old says. “I want my boys to come to the field every day and see what their dad can do out there. I was put on this earth to play baseball and that’s what I’m here to do.”

►There are 14 teams that are fully vaccinated, and it pains Cubs president Jed Hoyer knowing they aren’t one of them. “It’s disappointing to not be at 85% as a team,” Hoyer says. “We’ve worked hard to get as many people vaccinated as possible. It’s hard to try and convince or educate the people who have been reluctant … It’s just a disappointing thing that we will have anxieties and restrictions that others don’t."

►Very cool moment this week when the grandsons of Hall of Fame broadcasters Joe Garagiola and Harry Caray were broadcasting a minor league game between the Pensacola Blue Wahoos and Rocket City Trash Pandas.

►The Minnesota Twins, who won the past two American League Central titles, including 101 games in 2019, have easily been the most disappointing team in baseball the first quarter of the season. They entered Saturday with a 16-27 record, worst in the AL, and 10½ games out of first place. Only one team in history started with a record this lousy and made the playoffs: the 1914 Boston Braves.

►The biggest surprise? Say hello to the San Francisco Giants, who lead the major leagues in starters’ ERA and road homers. “We're staying humble and we're staying hungry," Giants manager Gabe Kapler says. "We've got a long way to go."

►Remember when Cleveland and Tampa Bay were blasted this winter for seemingly waving the white flag? Cleveland traded shortstop Francisco Lindor and starter Carlos Carrasco, and didn’t tender closer Brad Hand a contract. The Rays had the gall to trade Cy Young winner Blake Snell and refused to pick up veteran starter Charlie Morton’s contract. Well, look what they’re doing now. Cleveland is 23-10, just 2½ games behind the Chicago White Sox and the Rays (27-19) are one game behind the Boston Red Sox. You think maybe they knew what they were doing?

►Adam Wainwright will be on the mound and Yadier Molina behind the plate Sunday night for the 282nd time, tying them for fifth place with Red Ruffing and Bill Dickey of the New York Yankees, and just one shy of Dodgers battery mates Don Drysdale and John Roseboro.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why former MLB players are flocking to college game