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Tulo and me

Troy Tulowitzki and I had just begun to know each other. Here is the short story of how I was wrong about Tulo at every turn.

I met Troy Tulowitzki at a Carlos Gonzalez fundraiser a few months before I knew I would be credentialed to cover him. I was lucky enough to attend the event with my girlfriend (and photographer) as just a fan. And that is how I introduced myself, perhaps the most cliched moment of my adulthood: "Hi, Tulo, I know you get this a lot, but I am a huge fan."

My "relationship" with Tulo is among the most perplexing I've ever had with another human being, and that my friends is saying something.

It began, like it did for so many, in the Summer of 2007. This was long before I knew a damned thing about minor league baseball (and the jury is still out on that) so I had no idea who this kid was and my natrural instinct was to mock the Rockies for trotting out a roster full of ridiculous names I've never heard of. "TuloWHATzki amirite!?"

I was wrong about Troy Tulowitzki.

It might be a good idea -- I realized -- to learn a thing or two about how this whole system works after witnessing easily the most thrilling few months of my entire sport life. Rookie sensation Troy Tulowitzki was right in the middle of it.

We all learned how to say his name, even if some of us never learned to spell it. When you break an Ernie Banks record, people learn your name. After the unbridled joy of the run in 2007, Tulo began to redefine how I looked at the game of baseball.

Seeing everything he could do changed how I conceptualized roster construction. It changed my perception of true value toward winning baseball games. This led me to an analysis that he is the best position player in all of baseball.

Simultaneously, scattered reports of bruskness, aloofness, and ego began to paint an all-too-familiar picture. No matter how much I was growing to respect him, I wasn't sure I liked him.

I've had a love/hate relationship with sports my whole life and Tulo embodied that dilemma for me.

Cocky, talented, self-assure -- I'll just go head and use the word -- "jocks" were the bane of my young existence. I badly wanted to play sports professionally but I never felt a part of a team. I never felt welcome. By the time I got to high school my skills diminished as others sky-rocketed largely due to a fear of going into the weight room and being bullied.

I thought Tulo might be that guy. I have -- on multiple occasions -- written that Tulowitzki seemed like a jerk to me. He has never been my favorite player. After all, his idol is Derek Jeter whom I've always suspected to be a phony and perhaps the most overrated athlete of my lifetime.

When I re-met Tulowitzki late in another 90-loss season while he was dealing with yet another season-ending injury in September of 2014, he didn't seem that interesting in talking. Gee, I wonder why. Still, his disinterest only played into my narrowly constructed caricature of him.

He immediately became the most difficult mental block I had about my new-found (and super neat!) access. I've been able to talk to most everyone in that clubhouse comfortably, but I always felt like if I was ever going to ask Tulo a question, it better be a damned good one. I had personally seen him scoff at admittedly silly questions and I feared being the target of ire from someone I respected so much. I was afraid to ask question because I was afraid of ridicule.

But then those same silly questions were asked the next day. And the next. And the day after that.

I asked a silly question about how this team just needed to get the pitching and the offense going at the same time, right? To which Tulo essentially responded "Yeah, us and every team in baseball."

Oh, right. Duh.

It finally clicked: Troy Tulowitzki is only interested in playing one game -- baseball. He wasn't going to write my story for me. He wasn't going to suffer my foolish BS. It's amazing how many guys are willing to do that.

He was always more than happy to answer questions of honest intent, and I discovered he was just as jazzed (if not more so) to talk baseball just like everyone reading this right now. He loves this game like we do, and the faster we get through the nonsense, the quicker he can get back to talking strategy or taking a few swings in the cage.

I was wrong about Troy Tulowitzki again.

Clearly, I was sold on his talent but in spending some consistent time around him, I was sold on his character.

He isn't aloof, or self-absorbed, he is focused on earning his salary and passionately living out every moment of his dream.

I was at the post-game press conference when Tulo was announced as a National League All-star this year and the most interesting part to me was actually a question asked by Marc Stout.

Actually, it wasn't a question but a leading statement in response to Tulo's harsh self-criticism of a down season in 2015: "Yeah, Tulo," Stout said, "But only you know what it took for you to get back here."

Only Tulo -- and his family -- know the totality of the hours, the sweat, and the tears he put into this team and these fans. I was stunned to hear him say that there was a moment last year when he thought he might never play again.

We forget sometimes in all the high dollar figures, that each human being only gets one body, and it can never be replaced. He put his body on the line every day for our entertainment.

****

I was lucky to take part in a handful of group and solo interviews with Tulowitzki but it wasn't until our last conversation, maybe ever, that I think I earned his respect. I could be wrong (I usually am) but when we talked about the evolution of his defense his eyes lit up, he was engaged and focused. I asked short questions and he gave long answers.

It wasn't an interview, it was a conversation. He talked about all-time greats like Cal Ripken Jr. and Alex Rodriguez as though we were just two guys talking about some friends of his that gave some good advice regarding his job.

I've imagined Troy Tulwowitzki leaving many times. After living through the disassembly of the Blake Street Bombers -- which you might have just told me the X-Men were breaking up -- and the trade of Larry Walker, I had emotionally detached myself from particular player outcomes.

This feeling was only enhanced when Carmelo Anthony (still my favorite athlete in all of sports) left Denver and I seamlessly transitioned into cheering more for his success than that of his old team.

Larry Walker was going to be the last player I ever shed a tear over. Until I read this.

What Matt's article reminded me of is that it is actually okay to have sports heroes. It is okay to get emotional about these things. It is human. I was never as emotionally attached to Tulo as Matt, but his stirring poetry is a reminder that for all the stats -- and money -- and big business -- and fantasy sports and video games -- and the addictive meta-game of mental roster construction -- and the excitement inherent in blockbusters -- this is a very human game.

There is something different about baseball. It is a part of who we are as a people and always has been. Troy Tulowitzki leaving isn't just the end of a baseball era, it's the end of a chapter in the life of an entire city. And state. And, as a fan from Rhodes Island proves ... far beyond.

Matt's article also hit me hard because he quoted a song I sang at my father's service. He reminded me why I needed to stop fighting it and admit that this does hurt. I am sad, and that is okay. I am worried, a little angry and also a bit excited and anxious and filled with intrigue about the future.

Like a death in the family, the worst part of all this is the questions that will never be answered, all the moments that will never be shared. We will never know for sure if the Tulo era could have eventually delivered a championship. We can never know, for sure, where he would have finished in the pantheon of all-time Rockies. It's ironic how finality often walks hand-in-hand with an infinite parade of "what if."

The people who are happy about this trade are the one's who gave up on the dream of the CarGo/Tulo era a long time ago. The one's who are sad are the people who had not, and maybe never would. And I firmly believe that Troy Tulowitzki fits in the latter category. That stings.

That is why so many on this team feel like management gave up on them. Because they did. And just like that, a decade long relationship was over without a chance to say goodbye.

The gravity of what had just happened hit me the next day on the drive from Grand Junction to Boulder. I was listening to NPR and in between stories of war in the middle-east and Bill Cosby, there was a news update on Troy Tulowitzki and suddenly, there was the Big Bossman Bryan Kilpatrick on my radio trying to make sense of this whole thing.

Our collective heartbreak was such that national media pundits needed to know just how we felt before getting back to the Iran deal.

****

My relationship with Troy Tulowitzki began as a skeptic fan, grew into a professional admiration and near obsession and evolved -- to the complete shock of my 20-year old self -- into sharing a professional environment with him and (hopefully) earning his respect.

It was a handful of moments I will never forget. He is, without question, the most talented and hard working person I have ever met.

Thank you, Troy, for being kind and respectful to me. Thank you for teaching me so much about what it takes to be great in such a short time. It is okay to have sports heroes ... and you could do a lot worse than picking Troy Tulowitzki.

Thank you, Troy, for proving me wrong. It seems we hardly knew you.