Every sports fan has favorite players they loved to watch growing up. For the athletes who actually make it to the big leagues, especially in baseball, sometimes those favorite players help shape the way they form their own skills on the field.
For Colorado Rockies star Nolan Arenado, that player was Adrian Beltre, then of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The team’s proximity to Arenado’s hometown of Newport Beach, Calif., certainly helped nurture that admiration from a young age.
“I just liked the Dodgers in general. It was all of them, and (Beltre) was like the MVP,” Arenado said. “Just watching him and what he did, it was just unique what he was doing in the game at the time. I love watching him.”
Arenado spent his childhood admiring and imitating Beltre, all the way down to his signature move—a drop to the knee in attempts to hit home runs. It’s something Arenado carried over to his professional career.
“I feel like I try to emulate him more now than when I was a kid, like trying to drop my back leg down once in a while, but I don’t do it like him,” Arenado said. “He can actually hit the ball and do it. I usually swing and miss. But other than that, I really appreciate just how he played the game and how he has so much fun out there.”
Arenado made his major league debut for the Rockies in 2013, and has been a powerhouse on offense and defense ever since. He recently won his fourth straight Gold Glove, his second Silver Slugger, and his second Wilson Defensive Player of the Year accolade. The only other active big league third baseman to accomplish those feats? You guessed it: Beltre.
A lot of his training growing up, Arenado said, had to do with the way Beltre played and what the impressionable young athlete saw in his favorite player.
“I think I love how athletic he’s been as a baseball player,” Arenado said. “Obviously, in the box, he’s a great hitter. I like that he’s always played both sides of the ball and plays good defense and offense at a high level. I want to be a complete player, and he’s been a complete player his whole career.”
But since his inauguration into the big leagues, Arenado said his admiration for Beltre grew even more, and it shapes the way he approaches the game today.
“I’m a little different player. I’m a little more intense. He’s intense, but I just go about it a little more seriously than him,” Arenado said. “That’s just our two different cultures, but I’ve just got to be who I am. What he does on both sides of the ball, he wins both sides and that’s something that I appreciate.”
Over the past few years, Arenado and Beltre have met in multiple contests, as to be expected. The first time they met, however, is an experience Arenado said he’ll never forget.
“It was pretty cool,” Arenado recalled. “I was pretty nervous the first time I met him. I usually don’t get like that, but I was pretty nervous when I met him, other than that, he’s pretty cool. I’ve gotten to talk to him about the game a little bit, and he’s got a great perspective on the game and outlook, and that’s now why I see how good he is.”
Beltre is in the twilight of what has been a Hall of Fame career, but he’s not playing like it. Last season — Beltre’s 19th -- the veteran third baseman hit .300/.358/.521 and saved 15 runs at the hot corner. He’s compiled 90.2 WAR, placing him in the top 50 all time.
Arenado has a long way to go, but he’s certainly on the right trajectory. He’ll be just 25 on Opening Day, yet he’s already accumulated 20.1 WAR in just four big league seasons and averaged more than 6 WAR over the last two.
Just imagine: not long from now, younger up-and-coming players will get nervous around Nolan Arenado.