Two of the greatest defenders all-time at their positions never had really met each other until this spring at the St. Louis Cardinals’ training camp in Jupiter, Florida. Third baseman Nolan Arenado, who has won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves, the final two with the Cardinals, got to spend the better part of a week with 13-time Gold Glove shortstop Ozzie Smith, the Hall of Famer, who was a special instructor in camp.
“One, it was an honor to have him around,” said Arenado. “Two, talking about the game and what his mindset was as he got older was really cool. As he got older, was he still working the same? He said that he loved taking a lot of ground balls as he got older.
“I was hoping that he had cut back a little bit,” said the 31-year-old Arenado, the six-time Rawlings Platinum Glove winner who is under contract for five more years with the St. Louis Cardinals.
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Arenado laughed when he said, “That shows why he’s a Hall of Famer.”
Smith, after returning to St. Louis, said, “(Arenado) is one of those special talents. Watching him work, it’s no surprise he’s been able to get the type of results he’s been able to get. He and ‘Goldy (first baseman Paul Goldschmidt)’ are cut from the old cloth.”
One thing Smith did no matter what kind of surface he was playing on — and it was mostly artificial turf — was to make sure he was moving in one direction or another before the pitch.
Arenado said he didn’t approach his pre-pitch positioning quite the same although he said, “I’m not like Scott Rolen, where I just start wide (with his legs). I like to creep in a little bit, almost like a hop.”
St. Louis Cardinals record (2022): 93-69
An admiring Smith said, “He makes it look so easy. Of course, you know it’s never easy but he makes it look that way.”
Nolan Arenado said he didn’t feel the new rules changes to be put into play this season would affect him much. He said he noticed in drills that some balls hit in his direction struck the bigger bases rather than going into the outfield or being fielded.
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“But that could help me at bat,” said Arenado, “because I pull the ball down the line a lot.”
He also said he thought there were “a few balls that I hit up the middle that, maybe now, they’ll go through to the outfield.”
That would be because of the no-shifting rule in the infield, requiring two infield glove men on each side of second base.
“Some of these changes are ridiculous,” said Arenado, a notion seconded by the Wizard of Oz. “They have a formula and they think it can work,” said Arenado. “But the first month or so, it’s going to be kind of rough. The fans are not going to like it. The teams aren’t going to like it. Some wins and losses are going to be affected.
“But as we keep going, we’ll get used to it.”
Nolan Arenado is headed for Scottsdale, Arizona, to play for the U.S. Team in the World Baseball Classic’s opening round. Many of the new rules changes in the past few years will not be in play.
“It’s going to feel normal,” said Arenado. “It’s going to feel right, more than anything. In the WBC, it’s going to feel good. And then to come back here, it’s going to feel weird.
“It’s going to take some time to adjust, no question.”
Smith said he could see that baseball this year was “trying to create more excitement — which should come pretty naturally.
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“To me, the only thing that needed to be changed was the speed of the game,” Smith said. “As long as they could do that, then that’s OK. All of the other things . . . to me, it’s manipulating the game too much and taking the human element out.
“I feel the game is being more manipulated now more than it’s being played. It doesn’t make any sense. But . . . it makes sense to people who never played it.”
Rick Hummel, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame for baseball writing, is the baseball columnist for Sportsnaut.