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Arenado reinforcing his status as an elite player

DENVER -- Standing across the clubhouse from Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, veteran pitcher LaTroy Hawkins was smiling, watching the members of the media crowd around Arenado in the aftermath of Arenado's latest display of big league ability.

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"Right there," Hawkins said with a nod toward Arenado in response to the question of the best third baseman he had seen in a 25-year professional baseball career, which has included big league time in 21 of them.

Then came the curveball. Hawkins was asked what he felt was the most impressive thing he had seen Arenado do.

"Last year, when Walt [Weiss, Rockies manager] pulled him from that [July 25] game for not hustling to first base on that chopper back to the mound," said Hawkins. "He didn't pout. He didn't complain. He turned the page, and you have never seen him do that again."

Nobody will see Arenado do that again. He can guarantee that.

"It changed my life," said Arenado. "It was one moment that was never going to happen again. It wasn't right. It wasn't fair to my teammates."

Arenado can soak up the excitement that comes from an evening like Tuesday in which the Rockies slugged their way to a 10-5 victory against the D-backs at Coors Field. He hit his 18th and 19th home runs of the season, establishing a career high, and has driven in 58 runs, leaving him second in the NL in RBIs behind only Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins.

But Arenado's satisfaction comes from answering a challenge, like the one from Weiss a year ago, and the one former Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd delivered in person at Double-A Tulsa in 2012. Arenado had been the MVP of the Arizona Fall League in '11, beating out, among others, Mike Trout. He was a Texas League All-Star in '12 and also a Futures Game selection.

Arenado, however, was not going to get any time in the big leagues. O'Dowd told him his focus was lacking, and he wasn't getting called up to the big leagues at that time or September and not even to start the 2013 season.

Arenado's reaction? He finished the Double-A season strong, opened eyes the following spring and then four weeks into the 2013 regular season, having hit .364 with three home runs and 21 RBIs in 18 games at Triple-A Colorado Springs, he got the big league callup.

"Dan challenged me," said Arenado. "He said, 'You are not playing as well as you can. You are not getting called up.' What was I going to do? I wasn't going to give up. I was going to prove people wrong. I accepted the challenge. I knew I was better than that."

Arenado is proving it. He may appear to be something of an afterthought to All-Star voters, but he isn't overlooked by his peers -- not with the breakout season he is enjoying offensively go along with defensive play that has earned him a Gold Glove Award in each of his first two big league seasons.

"The best [defensive] third baseman I had behind me before [Arenado] was Tom Quinlan at Triple-A," said Hawkins, who signed his first professional contract on June 7, 1990, 10 months and nine days before Arenado was born. "Nolan makes Quinlan look like me playing third base. Funny thing about it is, he is not the fastest guy. He just has that seventh sense. He has baseball instincts."

And Arenado has that desire to take on a challenge and prove himself, like he did in the situations with Weiss and O'Dowd, and like he did early in his Minor League career when the talk was that he could hit his way to the big leagues, but most likely he would have to move to first base to cover up defensive deficiencies.

Jerry Weinstein, Arenado's manager at Class A Advanced Modesto in 2011, and Scott Fletcher, Colorado's roving Minor League instructor at the time, offered advice, and Arenado listened.

"Speed is God-given," Arenado said. "I'm not fast. But my lateral movement and first step could get better, and I worked on that. Scott Fletcher and Jerry Weinstein were big influences, changing the way I field. Even now, with my trainer, I work on that first step and lateral movement in the winter."

The offense is the added attraction. It's what Arenado always has been able to do.

Right now, Arenado is doing it as well as he ever has. With his two home runs in four at-bats on Tuesday night, he extended his hitting streak to 10 games, raising his batting average to .287, fourth best among NL third basemen. Arenado is second among NL third basemen in home runs and is 10 ahead of Todd Frazier for the RBI lead.

"Nolan is entering that status, becoming an elite player in this league," said Weiss. "He hasn't played in an All-Star Game yet, so he definitely needs to do that."

It would be nice, said Arenado, but it is not his decision.

It is, however, another challenge that is being dangled for Arenado. And he has already proven he can handle the challenges that have been thrown at him in baseball.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for
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