10/07/07 12:30 PM ET
Chemistry rock solid in Colorado
Young players, veterans mesh as team reaches NLCS
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
While their youth movement is well under way, there's also a Todd Helton here, a Matt Herges and LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Redman there. It's a mix of kids and veterans, and it can work, no matter what the Dodgers seem to think.
The Dodgers spent double Colorado's payroll this year, but they found that couldn't buy happiness or a postseason berth. Their clubhouse fractured based on age, and their season unraveled at crunch time.
"We heard about that," said Colorado's 22-year-old shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. "The young guys in here are close with the veterans."
In fairness, the makeup of the two teams differed dramatically. The Dodgers had former prime-time players like Luis Gonzalez and Nomar Garciaparra shoved aside by the next generation of Matt Kemp and James Loney. The Rockies have built around the 34-year-old Helton, and the few other veterans were brought in to fill specific supporting roles.
Helton praises the approach of the young players.
"The guys know where they are, and they're relaxed about it," Helton said. "If you don't know where you're at, you shouldn't be wearing a big league uniform."
And the young players admire the face of the franchise, as Helton has become known.
"Todd is our rock, our leader," said NLDS Game 3 hero Jeff Baker. "Throughout the whole year, he's been a rock since Day 1, and he's seen this thing all the way through. And being able to go out there and win a lot of games and being on the field with Todd celebrating is pretty special."
But beyond that, Tulowitzki said there is a civil understanding between the two generations.
"The veterans realize they need the young guys to win and don't resent them," he said, "and the young guys realize they can learn from the veterans and become better players. It's a good relationship, the right mix, the right blend."
Tulowitzki said there are subtleties that have helped for a smooth relationship.
"The young guys learned how to play the game the right way, and the veterans see that," he said. "And the young guys respect the veterans. If you don't look up to a Todd Helton when he says something -- after all he's done in the game -- there's something wrong with you. My dad was a baseball coach, and he taught me to play the right way, to always run hard, to dive after balls. Respect the game and respect your teammates."
The payoff for this warm and fuzzy dynamic, according to manager Clint Hurdle, might have been most obvious during the club's tailspin in late June.
"For me, any questions I had about the makeup of the team was answered in the 1-9 road trip," Hurdle said. "I just saw a bunch of guys that -- those difficult losses that happened in the bottom of the ninth inning -- they didn't point fingers, they didn't feel sorry for themselves. All they did is get angry and try to find a way to get it done better, and they did.
"And they never lost sight of the confidence they had in each other, and the unselfishness was very -- it stuck out to me. It was very unique, and the rest of it we're not going to try to figure out."
Redman, the only Rockies player on the postseason roster with World Series experience, compares this club to the 2003 Florida Marlins.
"This team is full of energy, sort of like the '03 Marlins," he said. "We were young and weren't expected to win. We weren't supposed to be there, in some people's eyes, and it's the same sense with this team. It's a young team, not pressing, having fun doing it and believing in what they can do. It makes it a lot of fun, and from my standpoint, coming in late, this team welcomed me with open arms and made me feel like I've been with the team the whole year."
Herges said a clear example of the Rockies' unselfish attitude is Brian Fuentes' acceptance of the setup role for emerging closer Manny Corpas.
"[Fuentes] has to be a quality individual to be a three-time All-Star closer and when they ask him to set up, he does it because it's what's best for the team," said Herges. "That might seem unheard of -- that this is a collection of guys that not only are real good ballplayers, but good human beings."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.