Troy Tulowitzki meets with Wooden

Updated: February 22, 2010, 7:32 PM ET
Associated Press

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Troy Tulowitzki was just about to meet legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, and the Colorado Rockies shortstop had an identity crisis of sorts.

"Before I got to meet him, I got to talk to his caretaker, and the first thing I asked was, 'Does he even know anything about me, who I am?'" Tulowitzki said. "He said, 'Yeah, he's watched some Dodgers games and he's a big fan of baseball.'

"When we talked, he went on to say baseball was his favorite sport. I can't necessarily say he followed my career. But he knew a little bit about me. That was awesome."

Tulowitzki reported to spring training Monday, three days after visiting the 99-year-old Wooden at his two-bedroom condominium in Encino, Calif. A former high school basketball star, Tulowitzki had always wanted to meet Wooden and wrote him a letter.

Agent Jeff Blank, who represents former Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins, who went to UCLA, made sure the letter got to Wooden.

Tulowitzki, 25, gazed in awe at Wooden's basketball memorabilia and listened as the Wizard of Westwood spoke about the importance of teamwork.

"And he really stressed that without good players, you're not going to be a good team," Tulowitzki said. "He's probably one of the most humble people I'd ever met from the aspect of saying he wasn't a very good coach ... it was just all his players."

Tulowitzki said Wooden passed along knowledge that could be imparted to his Rockies teammates and give them an edge, but he declined to be specific.

"I think the most important aspect is having guys buy into the team aspect and doing your part," Tulowitzki said. "If everybody does their part and tries not to do too much, we're going to do all right with the talent we have in this room."

The Rockies have reached the playoffs in two of the past three seasons. They got hot in mid-September 2007 and won 21 of 22 games to reach the World Series. After manager Clint Hurdle was fired on May 29 last season, the Rockies went 74-42 under manager Jim Tracy and made the playoffs as the wild card.

"I hope we get off to a slow start, to tell you the truth," Tulowitzki said. "Both [those] years we got off to a slow start, it ended up pretty nicely."

Slow starts have been the norm for Tulowitzki and a reason he has yet to be an All-Star. A lifetime .244 (55-for-225) hitter in April, Tulowitzki last year hit .200 (4-for-20) during that month. But he finished at .297 with 32 home runs, 92 RBIs and 101 runs scored, leading the Rockies in the latter three categories as well as total bases (300).

He hit .344 after the All-Star break, and his production combined with superb defense at a premium position resulted in a fifth-place finish in voting for the National League MVP award.

"If I start off slow, I'll sacrifice that to get to the playoffs," Tulowitzki said. "I don't care about what my numbers could be. It's all about finishing strong and getting this team to the playoffs. And my numbers are still respectable to where if you add in a couple more home runs, RBIs, this and that, I think it's just being greedy."


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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