Rockies scouting director Bill Schmidt was being asked about players the organization had drafted, who has been pleasant surprises.
"You don't have Nolan Arenado in the list," said Schmidt.
Well, he was a second-round choice.
"If I had known he was going to be as good as he is do you think I would have taken three guys ahead of him?" said Schmidt. "What you see with Nolan Arenado is a young man who was driven to excel."
And he has. Arenado, on Sunday, was honored with his seventh consecutive Gold Glove at third base, even though it wasn't until April 22, 2013 that he made his big-league debut. He ranks fourth on the all-time list for Gold Gloves by a third baseman behind Hall of Famers Brooks Roibnson (16) and Mike Schmidt (10), and Scott Rolen (8).
And along the way he has developed a legion of believers.
Rene Lachemann, who spent 53 straight years in pro ball as a player, coach or manager, was speaking at a Boy Scouts banquet in Cheyenne, Wyo., when he was asked about his favorite big leaguer.
“I used to think nobody could ever match Brooks (Robinson) . . .” Lachemann replied, before he went into detail about the exploits of Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. “I’ve seen him do something and say, ‘I’ve never seen that before,’ and the next game I’m saying it again.”
When that story was related to Larry Bowa, the former big league shortstop, manager and coach laughed.
“I was like that with Schmidty,” Bowa said of his longtime Phillies teammate Mike Schmidt.
Then along came Arenado.
“I don’t know if he knows it, but my favorite player is the third baseman (in Colorado),” Bowa said. “Playing on the East Coast (with the Phillies) when I was coaching, I would go home and turn on the Rockies game.
“My wife said, ‘What are you doing watching Colorado?’ I told her, ‘I love to watch this kid play third.’ ”
It is not just Arenado’s skills that draw attention.
“I like to see guys who are hard workers, who respect the game and don’t take it for granted,” Bowa said. “Everyone thinks if you get a big league uniform, you’re going to be here for 10 years. It doesn’t work like that. The longer you’re here, the harder you have to work. So when I see work ethic, I respect that.”
Arenado respects the fact that people like Lachemann and Bowa hold him with such high regard.
“They have been in this game a long time and have seen so many great players,” Arenado said. “For them to talk about me like that is humbling. It is an incentive for me to work harder. When people respect you like that, you don’t want to let them down.”
Arenado takes special satisfaction in his successful big league career because he knows it is the result of pure focus, determination and hard work.
The Rockies drafted Arenado in the second round in 2009 out of high school in Lake Forest, Calif. Schmidt did not envision Arenado as an everyday third baseman, much less an annual all-star and a player who would win seven Gold Gloves in his first seven big league seasons.
“He was a bit chunky, but he had a strong arm, and (crosschecker) Ty Coslow would talk about never seeing him mis-hit a ball,” Schmidt said. “He didn’t necessarily hit balls over the fence, but he never mis-hit one. We thought he might be a catcher.”
Arenado knew that. However, he also knew the Rockies were going to let him play third base initially. And he knew it was up to him to prove he could play the position.
“I was willing (to convert to catcher), but it wasn’t what my heart wanted to do,” Arenado said. “I was willing to do it because it was going to get me drafted higher and give me a chance to play pro ball.
“I always believed I could play in the infield, but I was a little slow and I could see why teams had questions. I was a little out of shape, too.”
Arenado, however, was very much into proving himself. Gabe Bauer, the Rockies’ director of physical performance who was working at the minor league level at the time, was there to provide Arenado guidance.
“He was telling me I was going to get moved (to catcher) if I didn’t get in shape,” Arenado said. “I lost 20 pounds that first off-season. I came back lean and ready to go.”
But then, Arenado likes answering a challenge, like the one from 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 the previous fall, 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 call-up.
"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.
"The best [defensive] third baseman I had behind me before [Arenado] was Tom Quinlan at Triple-A," said former Rockies pitcher LaTroy 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 with 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, if not catcher, 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."
And his payoff has come with his success on the field and respect of not only the fans, but his peers.