Rockies introduce Troy to the world

An unassisted triple play. A .291 batting average. Twenty-four home runs and 99 RBIs. Acrobatic catches. A grand slam and curtain call at Coors Field on the final weekend in the thick of a playoff race.

And Derek Jeter's autograph.

A good year? The Colorado Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki has stepped into his ultimate daydream, one-upping himself with nearly every swing during a remarkable rookie season, a transformation that helped the Rockies into an improbable berth in the National League Division Series against the Philadelphia Phillies.

"A lot of drama," said Tulowitzki, who began his professional career with the Modesto Nuts.

Take, for example, last Monday night's wild-card tiebreaker against the San Diego Padres. In the 13th inning, Tulowitzki doubled and scored the tying run at Coors Field, then jumped into a tangled heap of teammates after Matt Holliday scored the winning run on a head-first slide.

And the joy ride is accelerating.

The season started with Tulowitzki swinging and missing at three fastballs for the final out in the Rockies' opener, the start of a slump that renewed questions about his patience.

"If they threw a paper airplane out of the stands, he would have swung at that, too," Rockies assistant general manager Bill Geivett once said.

It took a turn for the better April 29 with an unassisted triple play, the 13th in major-league history and fifth in 39 seasons.

More serendipity than brilliance, the play nevertheless was a preview of memorable days to come, including the Sept. 29 win over Arizona. His grand slam lifted everyone out of their seats at Coors Field, none more quickly than Ken Tulowitzki, who had flown in from Santa Clara to watch his son.

"We're always talking baseball, and most of the time we're talking about the Rockies," the younger Tulowitzki said. "Any time he has some advice for me, I'm open to it. He taught me the game, so he's a good guy to listen to."

No one ever doubted Tulowitzki's potential. At 6 feet 3 inches and 205 pounds, he's built like Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Cal Ripken Jr., shortstops who revolutionized a finesse position with power and size.

His 24 home runs were the most by a National League rookie shortstop. His 99 RBIs left him one short of becoming the first NL shortstop with 100 runs and 100 RBIs since Ernie Banks in 1958.

A nearly flawless fielder, Tulowitzki led all NL shortstops in assists (561), putouts (262) and double plays (114), and he paced all major-league shortstops with a .987 fielding percentage.

"You knew it could happen at any time for him," said Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta, also a former Modesto Nut. "I mean, everyone knew he was going to be special. He came up so quick, he didn't have a lot of bats. It was just a matter of him getting enough bats."

Added general manager Dan O'Dowd: "The bottom line is that the kid has a special talent. But I think his intangibles are better than his talent. He just has a feel of how to play the game and how to slow it down and when to do what."

Tulowitzki also has a knack for locker-room levity, the give-and-take that takes the edge off a long season.

"We're all young guys," he said. "We like to have fun, play the game hard and win as many games as possible."

Never does it occur to Tulowitzki that baseball can't be fun.

"He makes people laugh," Iannetta said. "He keeps people loose when he has to. He really has a good understanding of what actually goes on, and when he needs to loosen guys up, he gets the team going.

"He was always that kind of player. Obviously, being new to an organization, he might have been a little reserved at first, didn't let it all hang out from the start. His humor runs the whole gamut. He throws it all out there -- you never really know what he's going to say."

Tulowitzki was born to play ball. His father stuck a glove and bat in his crib, hit groundballs to Troy outside their Santa Clara home, took him to his first major-league game, coached him in Little League and has gathered and stockpiled every glove from Troy's career in his garage.

He might have to make room for a trophy case.

"Troy's perseverance and drive to be the best is better than any young player I've ever been around," O'Dowd said.