The Rockies are three games below .500 at the official mid-point of the 2018 season, which has led to plenty of assessments — think of them as midterm grades. The final grade has yet to be determined, but it’s time for introspection. What have the Rockies done well? What do they need to work on? Are they buyers or sellers? The takes are abundant.
Something more than a take emerged from Nick Groke’s Thursday interview with Nolan Arenado. It was Arenado raw and cutting to the bone in the article “‘I’m tired of coming to the ballpark and losing’: Nolan Arenado feeling the strain of another Rockies season stuck in the middle.” In this interview, Arenado gives his own assessment of the season thus far, and there’s a lot to unpack in terms of what he says and what he implies.
Arenado makes clear his frustration with where the Rockies are now: “I just get pissed because I don’t want to lose anymore,” he said. “I’ve only been to the playoffs once and it was only one game. And I really want more than that.” He continues:
“I’m tired of coming to the ballpark and losing,” he said. “We work too hard as a group to experience that. I’m not saying I go home questioning, like, ‘I don’t like this place.’ I love it here. But yeah, I want to win. And the more we lose, the more I — if you lose all the time, nobody wants to be there.”
He likes playing in Colorado — Arenado makes that clear. But he’s weighing that against the frustrations of being on a losing team because he really wants to win. Moreover, he’s said elsewhere that it’s not about money for him — he has plenty of money — it’s about being on a winning team. Here, Arenado is both articulating his current frustrations while hinting at his decision-making process. The jury is out, but he’s being clear about his terms.
In addition, Arenado recognizes his teammates and their hard work — this is an even-handed, if emotional, assessment, not angry venting: “We can talk about it all we want,” Arenado said. “We’ve been talking about this since April. How are we going to turn it around? Blah blah. We haven’t yet.”
“Big picture, I know I am helping the team,” Arenado said. “I know I come to the park every day and work hard. I know my teammates appreciate that. Just like I appreciate my teammates who might be struggling, because they’re working hard trying to find a way. They may not feel it, but I see it. And I appreciate it.
“But it does hurt.”
#NolanBeingNolan is the popular hashtag we use when Arenado makes another miraculous play. But I’ve always thought it’s more complicated. In addition to being physically gifted, Nolan plays with his heart on his sleeve — always — which is a big part of #NolanBeingNolan. The highlight reels miss that because they just show the physical skill, but if you follow Arenado in the way that Rockies fans do, you understand that those breathtaking highlights fail to capture what makes Arenado truly special: his complete emotional commitment. In this interview, that emotion rises to the surface: “I just get pissed off”; “It hurts”; “Those hurt the most.” That language shows his emotional investment and frustration that so little seems to be paying off, despite his hard work and that of his teammates.
But he’s unflinching in his performance evaluations: “We’re only seven or eight games out (in the division) and I feel like we’ve played absolutely terrible,” Arenado said. Notice the use of “we.” Arenado includes himself as part of the problem even though the statistics show he is having a banner year. He’s slashing .393/.584/.977, is a contender for the National League Most Valuable Player, and is on track for another Gold Glove.
Arenado is playing better than his teammates, but he speaks to his own frustrations: “When you’re losing, those weeks are harder because you’re struggling and you feel like you’re not contributing. And those hurt the most,” Arenado said. “You feel like you’re hurting the team more than helping it.”
In addition, he acknowledges the complications of the Rockies’ front office:
“They’re in an awkward position,” Arenado said of Colorado’s front office. “They’re probably wondering. They probably don’t know how to approach it right now. Only we know how to approach it and that’s winning ballgames. Hopefully we can put the pressure on them to go get guys. The more we win, the more they’re going to have to make a move.”
Arenado understands that the team is more than the players on the field, but it’s impossible to ignore the subtext of his own relationship with the front office given that Arenado’s future with the Rockies is always a topic of conversation. Here, he is saying that if the team improves, there is an expectation the front office will do its part to find players to strengthen the weak spots, but the Rockies right now are not there, so the question of whether the Rockies are buyers or sellers remains unresolved as does Arenado’s future with the Rockies.
Nolan Arenado’s frankness here is refreshing, and his audience is complicated. He’s talking to himself, his teammates, Bud Black, Jeff Bridich, and the fans. He’s laying out the calculus of his thinking as he considers his future. He’s being fair, and he’s being open. He’s doing an assessment.
In the meantime, let’s hope that the Rockies’ luck improves, and that the second half of the season reflects the hard work the Rockies have invested.
(I am, after all, an optimist.)
In the AT&TSportsNet pre-game interview before the first game against the Dodgers, Arenado clarified that the team shares his frustration, that he was speaking for them as well as himself. At roughly the same time, Groke tweeted this:
Make of that what you will, but the fact remains that Arenado did the interview, and given where he is in his contract negotiations, the fact that he’s said this matters.