Arenado assumes mantle as face of franchise

Rockies 3B notices difference in fan interactions at Rockies Fest

Arenado assumes mantle as face of franchise

DENVER -- Familiar and new faces flashed before Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado on Saturday at Rockies Fest. All greeted him with more enthusiasm than in years prior. Such is the case when folks see a player as the new face of the franchise.

Arenado enjoyed the recognition and banter on a mild winter day at Coors Field -- possibly the only place in Denver that folks were not wearing blue and orange and talking about Broncos playoff football.

"It's always good to come back to Denver," said Arenado, who spends the offseason in his boyhood home of Lake Forest, Calif. "To be honest with you, seeing the fans always gets me hungry to get down to Spring Training and get myself ready for the season. I get excited to see everyone and get excited to hear the crowd. That's what this reminds me of."

But Arenado thought back to October, when he flew to Toronto to watch the Rockies' former bell cow, Troy Tulowitzki, open the American League Division Series with the Blue Jays against the Rangers. As much as he enjoys the game, Arenado admitted watching was uncomfortable.

"I wanted to be in the playoffs -- that's the atmosphere I want to be in," Arenado recalled. "Sometimes I kind of regretted going out there. I don't want to be [there] as a fan. I want to be [there] as a player.

"But it's fun. I enjoy baseball. I love the game. I wanted to go watch. It's October baseball. There's nothing better. To see fans, to see everyone's focus on it. ... That's something I want to be a part of."

That trip to the playoffs was much different than Saturday, when Rockies fans hoped for a glimpse and cherished conversation.

"No. I was in Canada," he said, smiling. "No one knows me in Canada."

So Arenado steps into the shoes of Tulowitzki before him, and Todd Helton before that, and Larry Walker in years prior. Arenado has become a player with impeccable credentials on a team whose records can be pecked at easily.

Arenado has won National League Gold Glove Awards each of his three seasons. Last year, he added The Fielding Bible and Wilson Defensive Player of the Year awards, a trip to the All-Star Game, a co-National League home run championship (tied with the Nationals' Bryce Harper with 42) and a Major League RBI crown (130). But in his three seasons, the Rockies finished 74-88, 66-96 and, last season, 68-94.

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Tulowitzki, Helton and Walker each had plenty of dreary seasons under their watch as face of the franchise. But they also each experienced the postseason -- Walker in 1995, Helton and Tulowitzki in 2007 and 2009. Each put his stamp on the club. Walker brought a somewhat zany personality, but was calm and steady on the field. Helton had a statesmanlike quality and Tulowitzki a burning intensity.

Arenado has brought bounce-off-the-dugout-walls energy and a work ethic best described by his white workout T-shirt, emblazoned with the slogan "Watch Me Work" on the front. But Arenado, who turns 25 on April 16, said he plans to be heard as well as seen.

"If I feel something is in my heart that I need to share with this team, I'm going to start doing it," said Arenado, who signed a one-year, $5 million deal to avoid arbitration, and whose contract is under club control for three additional years. "Back in the day I probably wouldn't do it so much. I'd just mind my business. I'll probably be like that in a way. But there are going to be times when I'm going to need to let guys know how I feel and what we need to do, and I'm going to voice my opinion."

Arenado hopes when he is vocal, he is encouraging younger players who struggle. He's also wanting to forge a togetherness in a situation that could be ripe for dissension.

Rockies history is full of strong offensive teams and struggling pitching staffs, and the three teams Arenado has played on are no different. But by pointing the finger at himself and asking everyone to look in the mirror, Arenado hopes they all realize improvement will come when they work together.

"Everyone would say pitching, this and that," Arenado said. "But I think guys need to step up in general. We've got some young guys. We've got some new guys that are going to have bigger roles. There are some young dudes that are going to have a chance to make the team and play.

"We need these guys to take the next step. Individually, I need to take the next step. The guys that are on the team and playing, we all need to take the next step in helping the team win."

There will be time for all that. Saturday was about fun games with fans, even some social media -- something not in Arenado's typical lifestyle. He is embracing being the face of a franchise, and hoping to be a familiar face on everyone's TV set if he helps lead the Rockies to the postseason.

"The fans are reacting a little bit differently, which is great," Arenado said. "I appreciate the support. I love the fans. They always come out and support us. Good or bad, they're always there. It means a lot. If they look at me as the face, I have no problem taking that on."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.