Following back-to-back disappointing seasons in 2019 and 2020, and a tumultuous feud with former Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich, Nolan Arenado was abruptly traded to the St. Louis Cardinals a month before the 2021 season began, without an opportunity to say goodbye to Denver. Left in the wake were thousands of fans who felt hurt and betrayed.
Nearly five months later, Arenado jogged out of the dugout at Coors Field when his name was announced as the starting third baseman for the National League. As he greeted his teammates already standing on the first baseline, he tipped his cap to 49,184 fans who were united in giving him a standing ovation.
The moment itself was not lost on the eight-time Gold Glove award winner appearing in his sixth All-Star Game.
“It was a pretty amazing feeling,” Arenado said. “One of the better things I’ve ever had in my life and in my career so I’m very thankful for them and their support.”
Arenado received several more ovations during the All-Star Game itself, once during an on-field interview prior to the first pitch, and again as he stepped up to the plate to face Shohei Ohtani in the first inning. Arenado had received similar tributes just a few weeks prior when he arrived with St. Louis for a four-game series against Colorado, and it all created closure for him with the fans and the trade knowing he did the best he could.
“The fact that they appreciated it means a lot to me,” Arenado said. “I just tried to play hard and sometimes you get unnoticed for playing hard or people don’t appreciate it. And the fact that Colorado did, I love them and I appreciate it.”
The event also gave Arenado the chance to reunite with old friends and support them on the field. During the Home Run Derby, Trevor Story ultimately lost in the second round to Trey Mancini. But he had Arenado in his corner the whole time, making sure he took care of his friend.
“It’s awesome. I mean, I was there,” he chuckled. “I told [Story] ‘I’ll be the water boy, whatever you need, man, I’ll be there for you’ and I told him, ‘I’ll be your hype man also’ and I think the fans liked it and he deserves that. He deserves the recognition for how good he is and how special of a player he is and what he’s done here.”
In the first round, Story took a timeout for a breather and to refocus on his eventual upset of Rangers slugger Joey Gallo. The ever-competitive Arenado was quick to rally the people of Denver for their man.
“I was getting fired up for him. I really wanted him to win,” he said. “I wanted the fans to get into it for him. I think the fans did; they gave him a little bit of support. I think that helped him out a little bit. I mean, he put on a great show.”
In his sixth All-Star Game, fourth as a starter, Arenado relished an opportunity to play behind his former teammate, Germán Márquez, once again.
“I’m happy for Germán. Germán’s a grinder, a really good pitcher. He earned the right to be here,” Arenado said.
“He started off a little slow,” he continued, “but to see him turn around so quick, it’s been awesome. Germán’s one of my favorite teammates of all time and we get along really well, and I’m really happy for him.”
During his time in Colorado, Arenado was always one to give advice to the young starter, “I always tell him, ‘Hey man, give me the ball, I’ll make a play for you. I always have your back no matter what.’ I try to preach that into him.” The advice has paid off for Márquez as he is one of baseball’s best at inducing ground balls, a skill he demonstrated in the All-Star Game.
After getting Rafael Devers to ground out on the first pitch of the fourth inning, Márquez forced Marcus Semien to bounce a ground ball to third where a charging Arenado scooped up the ball and fired across the diamond to Freddie Freeman to get the out in an all-too-familiar play. Márquez turned to Arenado and made sure to point his glove towards him in acknowledgment of a job well done.
When the festivities concluded, the fans will be able to remember the joy of seeing Arenado play on the field, and reconnect with his old teammates once again. For Arenado himself, it took coming back and experiencing the ovations for him to realize that he truly did his best in Colorado. The wounds appear to have mended for both parties.
“I guess there’s a little closure, you know?” Arenado said. “I won’t be coming back again this year. But it was an amazing time. I love coming back here.”
As Arenado tipped his cap to the crowd, he noticed the thousands of purple jerseys bearing his name and number. In that moment, it dawned on him how special he was to Colorado.
“It means everything. To see all the purple Arenado jerseys is amazing,” Arenado said. “I did the best I could when I was here. I wanted to put on a show for them and I tried to represent it the right way and I think the fans appreciated that. I don’t what to say. I love them, man. I love everything about this place and I did the best I could.”
For Colorado Rockies fans, that’s all they could ever ask of him.