ARLINGTON -- Corbin Carroll grew up in Seattle trying to emulate elements of Ichiro Suzuki’s game. Now, Arizona’s cornerstone rookie star stands, too, as an example to young Asian-Americans.
Presumably slated to lead off for the D-backs to begin Game 1 of the World Series on Friday at Globe Life Field, Carroll is believed to be the first player of Taiwanese descent to appear in a Fall Classic -- and that’s just the latest milestone in a breakout season defined by Carroll ticking off, one by one, accolades that might well be career-defining honors for many other players.
“Wow, that's really cool. I didn’t know that,” Carroll said, a smile spreading across his face. “My grandparents lived over there and my mom was born over there. Just bringing some pride and attention to Taiwanese baseball and that side of my heritage, I take a lot of pride in that.”
Taiwanese pitchers Wei-Yin Chen (Orioles) and Chien-Ming Wang (Yankees) both appeared in the postseason, but Carroll is the only one to advance this far. It’s only fitting that the World Series will begin in Texas, where his Taiwanese maternal grandparents, Ming and Hannah, now live, though they reside in Houston and won’t be in attendance for these games in Arlington.
“I talk to my grandparents a good bit,” Carroll said. “They've got all their friends that they share stuff with. They'll share stuff with them about me. Definitely still a little bit.”
Just as important, though, is Carroll’s identity to his teammates as the fully formed star that serves as the sparkplug of this resilient D-backs squad -- proudly labeling itself as the “Answerbacks” -- that shook off the haters, naysayers and unbelievers to surge to the World Series. It came on the back of Carroll, who shrugged off a 3-for-23 NLCS slump with a three-hit, two-RBI, two-steal performance in Game 7 in Philadelphia.
“Stars come out in the postseason,” said Arizona closer Paul Sewald. “It takes the whole team, but if you're going to win, your stars need to perform. If you asked him, I know he would be disappointed by how he played in the NLCS. But when it came to Game 7, who was our best player? It was our best player. That's just the way you have to win.”
And that’s the way they’ll have to keep winning.
“We have so many good players, but he’s a superstar,” said D-backs general manager Mike Hazen. “And you can’t win without superstars. We wouldn’t be where we’re at without him.”
Perhaps many fans aren’t as familiar with Carroll’s game since he spent most of his breakout playing late at night on an 84-win Arizona team, overshadowed in the division by the three California teams. Perhaps it’s easy to underestimate him because he changes the game from a relatively understated 5-foot-10, 165-pound body.
But his teammates know better -- and they figure, soon, too, will America.
“What he brings to the table is usually what you see in, like, an Aaron Judge or a Mike Trout-type frame,” reliever Joe Mantiply said. “For him to have that ability, too, and to be able to put it on the field and it plays, it's pretty special.”
The 23-year-old Carroll is the fifth rookie in the expansion era (since 1961) to lead his team in WAR and then lead the team to a World Series appearance, and he’s looking to join Fernando Valenzuela (1981 Dodgers) as the only ones to win the ring.
He does it all with the aggressive style that, above all, has been emblematic of Arizona’s “embrace the chaos” mentality this October.
When he’s not hitting the ball over the fence, Carroll is putting it in play, taking his walks and finishing second in the NL in steals. Only one player (Bobby Witt Jr.) is better at taking an extra base on a hit as the lead runner, and only one (Freddie Freeman) is better at advancing on wild pitches, passed balls, fly balls and the like.
“What really surprised me is how fast he plays,” said Sewald, who arrived in a late July trade from the Mariners. “You can see that on TV. You see the stolen bases on the TV or on the scorecard, like, ‘Hey, he has 40 stolen bases,’ but he plays even faster than maybe even the stat sheet says. He just creates havoc.”
So here comes the final havoc-filled act (the D-backs hope) of a year that has already seen Carroll ink an eight-year, $111 million extension with an option for a ninth; start the All-Star Game in his hometown of Seattle; and, in all likelihood, soon win the NL Rookie of the Year Award, which would make him the first D-back to do so.
“What stands out to me is I'm definitely kind of proud of the way that I've handled everything,” Carroll said. “I feel like I've stayed true to myself. At the same time, I feel like there's been all these great things, but there's room for so much more.”
But the future will have to wait just a bit longer, because the present is not yet complete -- and, thanks to Carroll, the ultimate prize still lies ahead amid this season in which he’s already left so many marks on the game.
“He's talking about going out and winning four more games,” first baseman Christian Walker said, “and what that means to an organization, and what that means to the city of Phoenix, and what that means to the group of guys who have been battling all year with each other and leaning on each other to accomplish something like this.”