Troy Tulowitzki’s journey from Rockies star to Texas teacher

Troy Tulowitzki’s journey from Rockies star to Texas teacher

Troy Tulowitzki played his final major league game on April 3, 2019, at Yankee Stadium. He went 0-for-1 for the Yankees against Detroit.

Tulo was 34.

One might be tempted to think Tulowitzki might be lost, drifting. After all, the former Rockies shortstop was a tantalizing, five-time all-star, but a series of injuries, notably to his legs, cut short his brilliant career.

But there is no bitterness. He still has baseball.

“Right away, the day I retired, I knew what I wanted to do,” he said during a phone interview from his home in Austin, Texas. “I won’t say that I wanted to retire at that point because I still loved playing the game. Unfortunately, my body didn’t let me keep playing, but my mind and spirit needed to stay in the game. Because I love baseball so much and always will.”

Tulo, being Tulo, always had a plan.

Even in 2007, when he helped lead the Rockies to their only World Series and finished second in voting for National League rookie of the year, he had an inkling what his long-term future would be. After slugging 225 career home runs, he knew what he wanted to do after taking his final swing.

Meet Coach Tulowitzki.

“The day I announced my retirement, I had already decided I wanted to get started coaching at a major D-I school,” he said. “My sales pitch for the college game was this: ‘Look, I never saw myself as real, real talented. I was never supremely gifted like A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez); that wasn’t me.

“But because of all the work that I put in, and how focused I was on my craft, I made myself really good. I know how I got there, and that’s why I’ve always thought coaching was for me.”

Last week, USA Baseball honored Tulowitzki as its volunteer coach of the year for his work with the Collegiate National Team over the summer, and also for his involvement with the nation’s top 13-and-under and 14-and-under players in the Athlete Development Program.

Photo provided by USA Baseball

The Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki works as an assistant coach of USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C., in the summer of 2021.

For the past two seasons, he’s served as an unpaid, volunteer assistant coach for the University of Texas. In 2021, Tulowitzki, who coaches hitting and the infielders, helped lead the Longhorns to their first 50-win season since 2010. Texas came up just one game shy of the College World Series finals.

In Tulowitzki’s case, the term “volunteer coach” is a misnomer. The intensity that was his trademark with the Rockies is his trademark with the Longhorns.

“He had great expectations as a player and he does as a coach, too,” Texas coach David Pierce said. “He’s all in, all the time. He didn’t come here to just be ‘around the game.’ He puts in long hours and he’s totally committed. He’s been a great piece to our staff. I never have to worry about whether the infielders are working hard.

“There are many times when I will be in the bullpen working with the pitchers and I know I don’t have to worry about the offensive side because I know that Tulo and coach (Philip) Miller are taking care of it.”

* * *

Under the guidance of Miller and Tulowitzki, Texas had its highest team batting average (.275) and its most home runs (68) since 2010 this past year.

“Tulo added his mental edge to our game,” said Longhorns junior catcher Silas Ardoin, the son of former Rockies catcher Danny Ardoin. “He’s really great at the mental side of hitting.

“His big thing is competing. He doesn’t have any crazy philosophy about hitting, but when we get in the box, we know it’s just us against the pitcher and he helps us bring that edge we need.”

Ryan Spilborghs, Tulowitzki’s teammate in Colorado from 2006-11, is not surprised Tulo’s early foray into coaching has been a success.

“He’s always had that in him because he’s a baseball rat,” said Spilborghs, now a Rockies analyst for AT&T SportsNet. “He loved learning from other players and he loved the craft of being a shortstop.”

Spilborghs also points to Tulowitzki’s three seasons at Long Beach State, a school that has produced infielders Bobby Crosby, Evan Longoria, Matt Duffy and current Rockie Garrett Hampson, among others.

“The coaches at Long Beach worked Tulo’s (butt) off and taught him how to play the game the right way,” Spilborghs said. “Whoever was playing shortstop for Long Beach State, you just drafted him because you knew he was going to be good. I mean they’re called the ‘Dirtbags’ for a reason.

“I mean, if you take a guy like Tulo, who has talent, and then you constantly challenge him to get better, you’re going to get something special. Long Beach put that into him. And Tulo is arguably the most competitive guy you will ever meet.”

When Tulowitzki was called up by the Rockies late in 2006, he learned under Rockies veterans Todd Helton and Matt Holiday. It wasn’t long before Tulowitzki was a dominant presence in the clubhouse. He remained so until he was traded from the Rockies to Toronto in a blockbuster deal at the deadline in 2015.

“As a teammate, you knew there was something special about him,” Spilborghs said. “If he wasn’t playing baseball, you knew he was going to coach it, or manage it, or be a general manager.”

Photo provided by University of Texas Athletics

Former Rockies all-star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is now an assistant coach with the University of Texas baseball team. Working primarily with infielders and hitters, Tulowitzki helped lead the Longhorns to the 2021 College World Series.

Tulo’s star pupil was Nolan Arenado.

During Arenado’s rookie season in 2013, Tulowitzki rode Arenado constantly, asking him, “What are you doing to get better today?” If Arenado was chilling out at his locker, Tulowitzki would tell him he should be utilizing his time by studying video or working on his swing.

In 2011, Arenado, only 20, knew he had to make some big changes if he wanted to evolve from a shiny prospect into a great player. Sure, Arenado hit .298 with 20 home runs at High-A Modesto. And yes, he hit .388 and won MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League, beating out future superstars Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.

But the Rockies’ third baseman was overweight, a bit sluggish on his feet, and in need of a mentor.

Enter Tulo.

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