Tulo striving to enjoy the game more in 2012

Tulo striving to enjoy the game more in 2012

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Troy Tulowitzki's last batting-practice swing looked like a golf swing. A bad one. A bad golf swing with a baseball bat is even worse, but Tulowitzki said sometimes that's the best he can do against Rockies third-base coach Rich Dauer, who for some reason vexes him during BP.

Yet, the ball climbed and landed over the left-field wall. Tulowitzki broke into his familiar cowboy swagger and walked away, but shook his head and laughed.

There has never been a doubt that Tulowitzki, 27, loves baseball. But it's a love that can manifest itself in agony, brought on by defeat, or slumps, or the self-invited pressure of being the face of a franchise defined by its inconsistent performance from season to season.

One of Tulowitzki's simple goals for 2012 is to enjoy baseball as much as he loves it.

"Sometimes we got so caught up in the grind, so caught up our schedule," Tulowitzki said. "But if you sit back and look at it, I'm going to work every day -- even if you want to call it work -- doing what I love. I'm out here at a beautiful complex, get to hang around with some of my best friends. I'm a serious guy, but there are times I've sat back and tried to enjoy it.

"It's almost impossible, but my goal is to have fun, to really enjoy this game. The thing I'd be most proud of is, in those rough patches that I go through, if I'm still the same guy as when I'm going good."

To laugh at the little moments, to look at the bright side on bad days, to set personal struggles aside because someone else might need a kind word would be good for Tulowitzki's well-being. But this issue runs deeper, quite possibly to the very core of the Rockies' 2012 fortunes.

It began in 2007, when as a rookie starter at shortstop Tulowitzki used his talent and thirst for victory to help drive the Rockies to an unexpected World Series trip. With his accomplishments since -- two All-Star Game invitations, and Rawlings Gold Glove and Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger awards the last two seasons -- Tulowitzki has become recognized as the face of the franchise.

Fans and media gravitate to Tulowitzki, partly because he doesn't hide his emotions. But sometimes this quality has backfired. The lacerated right hand he suffered after slamming his bat in frustration in 2008 is the best public example. He has since calmed some of his outward actions.

Now, Tulowitzki realizes he needs to put his best face forward where it counts, in the clubhouse.

"I know a lot of guys feed off my energy, feed off emotion," Tulowitzki said. "If they see me down, they're kind of down. If I'm up, they see the energy. I have to do a better job of trying to be as positive as I can each and every day, not be so hard on myself. Maybe it works for me, but maybe it gets some of the other guys down."

There were many frustrating nights last season -- one which saw a Rockies team expected to win the National League West stagger to a 73-89 finish -- when Tulowitzki stayed in his uniform long after games. He reduced the number of angry postgame batting-practice sessions, but sometimes he would sit in front of his locker, scowling.

Often, his ire wasn't directed at anyone in particular. But Tulowitzki's locker at Coors Field, like his locker and at the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick complex, is in the middle of the room. He invites folks to look to him.

But after the season, Tulowitzki began to wonder if he liked what he was showing. He trained this offseason in Las Vegas with veteran first baseman Jason Giambi, who has become Tulowitzki's mentor. Part of the training was talking to Giambi about that very issue.

"Guys look to him, and that's what we talked about," Giambi said. "If he's having a tough game, he has to control himself. Everybody's going to look and say, 'If 'Tulo' is struggling, what chance do I have?' It's a lot of responsibility to put on a player. He's embraced that and worked on that.

"It's not about you. A player like him, even when he's struggling, sometimes has to go pick [up] a teammate who also is struggling."

Tulowitzki's search for knowledge on the issue didn't stop at Giambi.

"We talked about that, and we've had a ton of conversations this winter about life and a lot of different things," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "A very simple part of life is just trying to do the next right thing right. He tries to live his life that way."

Tulowitzki said he has learned from merely watching Todd Helton, who is every bit as intense but has a veteran's sense of when to reveal and when to conceal, when to admonish and when to encourage.

"You don't think about how much you have a say in the locker room, just by your emotions, by things that you do," Tulowitzki said. "I know I will be better about it this year."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.