SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Mid-morning, the fog that was low and warm lifted. Filtered and grayish since daybreak, the sun’s rays hit him square across the shoulders and neck. The infield, otherwise smooth and glossy, was, a few steps to his left, a few steps back, chopped and pitted and worn.
“Right down that line, dawg,” he shouted.
And so all that stuff that looks made up in the moment, that looks impossible until it isn’t, that can only be a gift of intuition and providence, began with a two-hopped fungo hissed over the third-base bag. With a backhander that carried him into the grass. With a throw that out-raced an imaginary runner.
With a voice that shivered with exertion.
“Yep, like that,” he shouted. “Just like that.”
Twenty-minutes later, he checked on the man delivering the repetitions.
“Blisters?” he asked.
“Huh?” Stu Cole asked.
“Blisters?” he shouted.
“Naw. Cheap batting gloves.”
Nolan Arenado cast his hand across his throat. With the last men standing on day one, he’d asked for a few more. A few more after that. Then, maybe, he’d covered those extra few inches, those extra couple hours, the miles and who knows what else the Colorado Rockies and Arenado might need come April. Come September. Enough for one day, anyway. All that made-up stuff, well rehearsed.
He tapped gloves with a young man named Josh Fuentes, like him a long, lean third baseman, and also his father’s sister’s son, a first cousin raised in the same Southern California backyards as he was, in the same modified whiffle ball arenas, at the same holiday celebrations, on the same sets of waves at Trestles Beach and, as of 2014, in the same professional organization, sharing the same sweat when the fog lifts.
Nolan is Noles to him. Or No. The guy who got him a tryout in front of a Rockies scout going on five years ago, because Fuentes had gone undrafted. Josh hit .327 in Triple-A last season, then .301 in the Arizona Fall League, earning him a place in his first big-league camp and as many first-day reps beside No as he could handle.
“Let’s go,” Arenado had said early Friday morning, the way he’d said it so many mornings all winter, so many mornings all their lives. Being so close, having shared so many plates of breaded steaks from Josh’s mom’s stove, the greatness seems almost, maybe, what, “Attainable?” Fuentes asked. Yes, attainable.
“Out there,” Fuentes said, nodding toward the field, “that’s us not talking at all.”
He laughed. Back home, he said, “We’re yelling at each other. Noles is in your ear.”
Make that play. Move those feet. Lower. Get lower. Gotta have that play today.
“Every practice is a game to him,” he said. “And every game is the World Series. You have to make that play.”
So they put “Let’s go” on T-shirts and on wristbands, a family thing that reminded them to figure out the hard stuff, to pick up the pace, to make it all count toward something, to cover a few more inches toward the miles to go.
“In my head, I’m thinking I can keep up with him,” Fuentes said. “I mean, why can’t I?”
Sometimes getting up early is worth it 🤩 pic.twitter.com/3O2S3dxB48
— 𝗖𝗼𝗹𝗼𝗿𝗮𝗱𝗼 𝗥𝗼𝗰𝗸𝗶𝗲𝘀 (@Rockies) February 15, 2019
When the fog had been still low and thick enough to feel in his lungs, Arenado had leaned on a bat and said he’d gotten back on a surfboard this winter for the first time in a while and found it wholly soothing, that he’d given up dairy products — “I miss cheese,” he said. “I miss it so badly.” — and become leaner for it, that he’d not stress the details of a contract situation that could lead to a long extension with the Rockies or, come next November, free agency. He smiled easy. He tapped the bat on the ground. He laughed about flying to Phoenix while his younger cousin drove those seven hours, the prerogative of the older cousin and veteran ballplayer. The news, of course, is how much longer Arenado will be a Rockie, and maybe that can be measured in months and maybe over an entire career.
“I have a bigger purpose and more important things to worry about, which is getting ready for the baseball season,” Arenado said. “All that money talk and contract talk, that’s something for my agent. He can take care of that. I just worry about going to play, man. That’s about it.
“The times I get caught trying to control things, to control the uncontrollables, that’s when I find myself getting in trouble. So I just try to enjoy every day. … I’m pretty fortunate to be in the position I’m in.”
He therefore stays out of it, or near enough to out of it. He’ll be paid $26 million in 2019, the result of a pre-arbitration agreement viewed in some circles as promising for a long-term contract between the two.
“I live a simple life,” Arenado said. “I live in SoCal. There’s nothing crazy about what I’m doing. So, honestly it’s not really about the money, man. It’s about where I want to be and we’ll see. I love it here. There’s a business side to it, too, that gets a little iffy. But, it’s not about money any more. When I first got to the big leagues it felt like it was about the money, trying to get the most money.”
When you don’t have it …
“It feels really important,” he finished. “Once you do, you realize that it should never be the No. 1 thing. I’m just going to not even worry about it. It’s never been the No. 1 thing for me and look what I’ve done. So I’m going to continue to do that.”
At 27, it’s all before him now, including the shadow that led him into the shortstop hole, that drew him into foul territory. To his left. To his right. His stocking cap darkened on his forehead. His cousin hooted at a throw that successfully fought gravity across the diamond, the impossible throw he’d make again and again. So not impossible.
“I’m doin’ a couple extra,” he said to no one, then to Stu: “Yeah, move me around. Anywhere.
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