CarGo eager to follow up breakout campaign
With extensions for Gonzalez, Tulowitzki, Rockies ready to roll
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The desert was gray, overcast and a little cold Sunday, until Carlos Gonzalez brightened the Rockies' clubhouse at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
After all the greetings and hugs, Gonzalez felt like the man who was happy to go to work so he could unwind from one hectic vacation.
Oh, he's not complaining, not after signing a seven-year, $80 million contract in early January. In addition to negotiating the biggest deal ever for a player with two years of Major League service time, Gonzalez flew from his Maracaibo, Venezuela, home to the U.S. to shoot a commercial for Gillette and made multiple flights back and forth from Maracaibo for commercials and camps as part of his deal with Maltin Polar root beer. In his hometown, he dealt with the demands of being the biggest big league star since Wilson Alvarez in the 1990s.
Then there's the downturn to celebrity in Venezuela, a country with an unstable political and economic situation. Many players and their families have been targets of criminal activity, such as kidnapping. At the time of the contract, Gonzalez talked of moving his entire family to Miami, but as he said Sunday, "it's not that easy."
Seeing what he can do for an encore to last year's breakout performance -- a .336 batting average, 197 hits and 351 total bases, all National League-leading figures, plus 34 home runs and 117 RBIs -- sounds like fun and games in comparison. That's exactly what it is.
"I was excited to come," Gonzalez said in preparation of the first full-squad workout on Tuesday. "It's a little bit irritating when everybody is around you. We need the space. We need to be here, concentrating on baseball. This is the most important thing for us. We want to get back to work. I feel at home. I feel like I'm in the family when I'm here with the players.
"I just need to have the same confidence that I had last year and forget about the past. Start working today. That's all I'm going to try to do, be the same guy and help my team to win."
It's not as if Gonzalez has to carry the burden alone. This offseason, the Rockies signed Troy Tulowitzki to a $134 million extension through 2020. It's a lot easier to function in a spotlight shared.
First baseman Todd Helton understands as well as anyone. Helton signed a nine-year, $141.5 million extension in 2001. At times, that contract was blamed for the Rockies not being able to shore up areas of need. But Helton and the club kept at it until they became NL champions in 2007.
Helton said Gonzalez and Tulowitzki are the right guys to sign to big deals.
"Those guys had wonderful seasons, but they can do better," Helton said. "If I was a fan, I would be excited to see how much better they can get. Can they lead the team to where they want to go? And you add Ubaldo [Jimenez, the pitching ace, who could be in line for a major contract of his own should he excel this season], and all three of those guys have the characteristics to do it."
Rockies manager Jim Tracy sees a player willing to adjust to help the club. Gonzalez began last season as a leadoff batter, willingly sacrificing RBIs because the team needed a table-setter. But not long into the season, Gonzalez took the No. 3 spot, which had for years belonged to Helton.
"This is not a self-centered individual," Tracy said. "He's shown that a number of times last year. He's committed to winning. And he's committed to everyone."
Even with the busy offseason, Gonzalez prepared for his share of the leadership mantel.
Gonzalez began dealing with tendinitis in his right thumb and wrist area on Aug. 30. He still hit .377 with five home runs, nine doubles and a triple in the 29 games after that point, but his swing was compromised.
To complete his healing, Gonzalez stayed out of winter ball in Venezuela for the first time in his career. After following the advice of trainers and taking a month off, Gonzalez said he was able to swing without pain. By the time the calendar turned to 2011, Gonzalez had his offseason under control.
"I feel more comfortable because I worked the whole January, except for when I came for the signing," Gonzalez said. "I'm ready to go, ready to play. I'm going to have a great season like last year."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.