Scottsdale, Ariz. -- It should come as no surprise to you that the Colorado Rockies' veterans — Carlos Gonzalez, Daniel Descalso, even recent additions like Gerardo Parra and Mark Reynolds — have been tapped to lead the young players and prospects that the organization hopes will push the team into contention soon.
"Veterans showing leadership" is so common and unrevealing a trope, of course, that it's not necessarily worth the cursory post about it happening; on big league teams, it (almost) always happens. But the interesting aspect of this vein of team dynamics—the stuff that is newsworthy—lays in the actual delivery of information from veteran to rookie. In the Rockies' clubhouse, for better or worse, that's done in as informal a way as possible so as to leave each man able to best prepare themselves and help the team.
"I don’t designate guys, they understand," Rockies manager Walt Weiss told Purple Row from his office in the club's Scottsdale facility. "This game has been going for a long time, and guys that have been in it for a while understand that rite of passage mentality, and that’s a good thing. There’s a line you don’t cross with rites of passage, but that’s a good thing."
The lines not to cross are, of course, not necessarily clearly demarcated in every situation, but the Rockies' veterans who sometimes lean hard on rookies and young players understand not only how to do it effectively, but why it's being done.
"I’ve been riding Trevor Story a little bit, giving him a hard time just like I got a hard time back in the day," first baseman Mark Reynolds admitted in front of his locker. "He knows I’m on him because he’s a good player and he’s got a chance to impact this team. You can’t let them breeze through camp, and think this is easy when it’s not. A little bit of getting on him and learning about my business the way I’ve been doing it for a long time is valuable."
"I grew in this game watching Tony Clark, Randy Johnson, and Orlando Hudson, all guys that were really successful, watching how they prepare and how they get ready," Reynolds added, citing his veteran bonafides. "And hopefully I can rub off on some of the young players in the same way."
Story, though having been ridden "a little bit" by Reynolds, appreciates the attention and seems to understand how special and informative that sort of feedback can be, especially for a man like himself who has yet to even make his Major League debut.
"It’s special being around guys like that, Reynolds and [Daniel] Descalso, and Nolan [Arenado] and Carlos Gonzalez, those are great guys to look up to because they’ve done what we want to do," the Rockies' young shortstop said. "And those are great guys to learn from, just to be around them and pick their minds and see whatever you can get from them. It’s good to be around those guys whenever you get a chance."
"Whenever you get a chance" seems to be the theme of the dynamic between older and younger players in the Rockies' clubhouse. Not that the interaction is so informal as to be inconsistent or worthless, but rather that it's so unregulated as to be accessible for each player at their own pace and level.
"I don’t want to come in and try to change stuff that these guys have been doing forever," Reynolds admitted, revealing that he's not big on 'rah-rah' leadership and planned bonding activities. "It’s more so how we go about hitting in the morning, getting our lifts in, taking care of our bodies, and how we work out on the field. It's more that kind of leadership rather than saying, ‘OK guys, we can only listen to this kind of music and we’ve got to do this, this, and this.'"
"It’s kind of a fine balance," Reynolds added, "but I think being more of an example as an older person is what it’s all about."
Sure, Reynolds is new to the organization, and perhaps his leadership style isn't necessarily the one used by other veterans in the clubhouse. But Gonzalez, at least, takes the same outlook on leadership as the veteran slugger.
"Whenever I feel like I need to say something to the young guys for their benefit, I’m gonna open my mouth," Gonzalez admitted, sitting in front of his locker. "But they’re not going to hear anything negative from me, that’s not the way I work. The only time I will talk to those guys is to make sure they feel comfortable at this level. They have the ability, and the talent. Now, it's all about making adjustments and feeling they belong in this league."
Ryan McMahon, who spent a month with the club early in camp before being reassigned to the minor league side, may not quite feel like he belongs yet, having never even played in Double-A. But that doesn't mean he didn't watch the big leaguers like a hawk all month for insight into the game's highest level.
"It was a great time, the guys are great, and watching everybody work and learning from them has been a great experience," the young third baseman said of what he noticed during his time in big league camp. "How they carry themselves, how they prepare, and how they take these spring training games so seriously. It's just their work ethic, and day in day out how professionally they handle themselves."
But all that intensity doesn't mean McMahon was intimidated or put off by the atmosphere.
"They’re still normal dudes, they talk about what we talk about, but just getting to know them has been a pretty cool experience," McMahon added. "Just watching these guys work, and learning how to be a professional. That’s all I really want to take away from this before going back down and continuing my work in getting ready for the season."
Something one tends to forget, though, is that the cool experience isn't just a one-way street; that is, it isn't just prospects and rookies in awe of the big leaguers during spring training. Often, longtime Major Leaguers enjoy the show that comes along with a wave of young talent in the clubhouse, too.
"I’m excited about them," Gonzalez said of the Rockies' young prospects moving through the system quickly. "I’ve really never seen those guys play before, and all I know is what I hear. So to get to be around them and train together, and to watch them play the game is fun."
Spoken like a true leader, the right fielder took on perhaps the most important—and stereotypical—view towards young talent joining the club, too.
"I’m here to help those guys," CarGo added, matter-of-factly. "They are going to be the future of the team, and whether I'm here or not, that’s still on me. I gotta make sure those guys grow as players, and feel comfortable in the big leagues. They have the ability, so if they make adjustments, they’ll have a long career."
Whether here or not himself, Weiss too understands the importance of the club's not-yet-realized future.
"Earning those stripes is part of being in this league, and that’s why I put such an emphasis on having the right type of veterans," Weiss admitted, "because we’re always going to be relatively young with our model. We’re always going to have some youth on our roster."
That kind of roster awareness is important, not just for a manager, but for everyone in the organization as they seek out their own roles, free of the cut-and-dry delineations and responsibilities carved in stone.
"It’s critical to have the right types of veterans that do those types of things the right way where it’s productive," added Weiss. "Because that can be powerful. This part of the game has been going on for a long time for a reason. But you have to have the right type of guys to do that."
As CarGo intimated, that part of the game will be going on long after these players are gone, too. By then, it'll be on the Rockies' current group of prospects to pass on knowledge to the generations behind them, and so on from there.
But while baseball churns on, this particular club has miles to go in its current iteration before one can even think about the future turnover of leadership and community within a Major League clubhouse. For now, it's a role happily filled by CarGo, Reynolds, and others heading into another summer of baseball.