Sunday, February 7, 2021

Farewell, Nolan

This is not a post I ever wanted to write. It's a post I've been putting off writing for over a week. Less than two years ago I thought it was a sure thing that Nolan Arenado, my favorite player to ever suit up for the Rockies, would remain in Denver for many years to come. Maybe for not the full eight years of his contract, but at least until his opt-out kicked in.

As we all know by now, it was not to be. Last week, the Rockies traded their generational talent (and around $50 million) to the St. Louis Cardinals for a flotilla of mid-ranked prospects. I had heard of precisely zero of them, and only one, LHP Austin Gomber, has any Major League experience.

Predictably, the Rockies have been getting torn to shreds over this one in the press, with one Athletic sportswriter charitably giving Colorado a grade of "D". And, yeah. This is bad.

Really bad.

Every team makes bad trades; it happens to the best of them. Dodgers fans know it. Yankees fans know it. Red Sox fans know it. Even Cardinals fans know it. But this is more than a bad trade. This is an indication of a systemic problem in the organization. Because in the last half-decade or so under Jeff Bridich, their current General Manager, hardly any transaction has panned out. Corey Dickerson to the Rays for German Márquez has pretty much been the lone highlight.

There's no need to recount the whole thing, but it's been done quite exhaustively by a particular reddit user if you'd like the gory details.

Long story short, Nolan Arenado simply said all along that he wanted to win, either in Colorado or elsewhere, and it became clear that the Rockies were no longer a good fit.

As a longtime fan, that's heartbreaking. I and a lot of fans like me have stuck around for it all, after the Tulowitzki trade, after the failure to ever win the division, after all the free-agent busts, after having to perpetually defend the team and the ballpark which much of the league considers a laughingstock, after learning why Arenado even had an opt-out in the first place.

I stuck around because there was always a glimmer of hope. There was always something to build around, like Todd Helton or the latest batch of young homegrown stars (e.g. Troy Tulowitzki). There was the occasional wild card. More recently, there was a solid rotation, playoff appearances in two straight years, and an infield that was as good as it's ever been. There was always possibility. There was always potential.

But now?

2013 Topps Update #US259 Nolan Arenado (RC)

Now it just seems like Nolan Arenado will just be yet another former Rockie that finds success (or at least more Postseason appearances) elsewhere. Like Larry Walker, Matt Holliday, Tulowitzki, DJ LeMahieu, etc.... And he's taking a huge amount of that potential with him.

It's very likely we'll see Trevor Story add his name to that list. He'll be a free agent after the 2021 season, and he just watched his legendary teammate sixty feet to his right get shipped off. Why would he stick around knowing he'll have to carry the whole left side of the infield?

Once upon a time, Arenado made his own splash as a Major League rookie, documented on his Rookie Card in 2013 Topps Update. It took him a few weeks to find his footing, but he rapidly became known throughout the league as an elite defender and a consistent hitter. 

Watching him play is magical. He's electric to watch. His defense is absolutely jaw-dropping in every single game. He's a great hitter, a perennial MVP candidate, and found himself atop the leaderboards regularly. As you likely know, he's won a Gold Glove every year he's been in the league, and the Platinum Glove four years running. And he plays the game with fierce intensity. 

You might have seen his walk-off, cycle-completing home run on Father's Day 2017, which, looking back, probably marked the high point of Arenado's tenure in Colorado. A month or so before that, I saw him play in a game against the Dodgers, and I remember him lining a rocket to third that Justin Turner managed to spear to end the inning. That was definitely an RBI chance, and everyone in the ballpark could tell that Nolan was pissed. He makes that play on batters day in and day out, but expected of himself that he could beat it from the other side.

That's what I'll miss.

And back in 2013, there was so much hope. Along with Christian Yelich and Anthony Rendon, he's one of the key rookie cards in 2013 Topps Update. I honestly don't know where I even got this one. It's easily one of the most sought-after recent cards in my collection, and I probably pulled it out of a commons box at a card show not long after its release. I also found the Yelich, but not the Rendon. That clearly visible number 28 became iconic in Rockies history, and the team really ought to retire it anyway. They should do so to honor the best player they've ever had, and as a reminder of mistakes made.

So where does that leave me as a die-hard Rockies fan? Honestly, I'm not sure. I'll definitely be tuning in to more Cardinals games this year. But I did see a tweet (or Reddit comment, or news quip, who can remember?) from another long-suffering fan of an NFL team who threw in the towel, saying, "I didn't give up on the team. The team gave up on me."

And while that's probably taking one's fandom a bit too personally, I'll say that I'm not expecting to find myself at the ballpark anytime soon. That's largely because of the pandemic, for sure, as I have no desire to add 35,000 people to my bubble, but also because my favorite player very conspicuously won't be there anymore.

I wish him well, and hope he gets to experience the pinnacles of baseball stardom that he's so clearly worthy of.