Dan's Dugout: Two Third-Sackers Trod Path to Cooperstown • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Two Third-Sackers Trod Path to Cooperstown

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Even with this year’s selection of Chipper Jones, the Baseball Hall of Fame is hurting for third basemen. Counting Jones, only 17 are enshrined in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.

A pair of Latino stars are on track to join that exclusive club.

Nolan Arenado is the only infielder to win Gold Gloves in each of his first five seasons

Nolan Arenado, third baseman for the Colorado Rockies, has knocked in more runs over the last three seasons than any man in the major leagues. He’s also the only infielder in baseball history to win Gold Gloves in his first five seasons.

Though born in California, the 27-year-old righthanded hitter is the son of a Cuban father and a mother who is part Puerto Rican and part Cuban. His grandfather was actually a politically prisoner under Fidel Castro.

He watched with intense interest when the Tampa Bay Rays played the Cuban national team in Havana two years ago.

“I would love to play a game there,” he told Tracy Ringolsby of MLB.com. “I feel it is important to someday go back and see the country. It is my family’s homeland.”

Nolan’s father was 6 when the Arenados left, first moving to Spain and then the United States.

A high school standout in Southern California, Arenado made it to the majors less than four years after the Rockies made him their second-round amateur draft pick in 2009. He hasn’t stopped hitting since.

Helped by playing half his schedule in the thin Rocky Mountain air, he made three All-Star teams while twice leading the National League in home runs and runs batted in. He reached 100 home runs at a younger age than anyone in the 25-year history of the Colorado franchise.

Arenado has more RBI over the past three years than anyone else

On June 18, 2017, Arenado not only hit for the cycle but won the game with his home run. A year later, he became the first third baseman to drive in at least 130 runs for three straight seasons. Only 10 other position players had done that previously.

At 6’2″ and 205 pounds, he doesn’t have the stature of Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton but he doesn’t strike out as much either. His lifetime batting average through April 3 was .290.

The three-time All-Star has also won three Fielding Bible awards, three Silver Sluggers, and three Wilson Defensive Player of the Year awards. Many more are sure to follow.

With the Rockies poised for postseason contention this year just as Arenado enters his prime, he’s a good bet to top his 2017 numbers: a .309 average, 37 home runs, and 130 runs batted in. He also piled up 355 total bases thanks to 87 extra-base hits.

Arenado finished fourth in the voting for Most Valuable Player but was victimized by split votes, since teammate Charlie Blackmon finished fifth. Future MVP trophies may not prove so elusive.

While Arenado has a bright future ahead of him, his favorite player is winding down.

Adrian Beltre could reach 500 home runs this season

The Colorado slugger has always admired Adrian Beltre, another third baseman who combines prodigious power with fielding prowess.

Beltre, 39, has just passed Hall of Famer Rod Carew as the Latino with the most career hits. He already has more than 3,000 – a stat that should send him to Cooperstown five years after he retires. In 20 big-league seasons so far, he has a .287 batting average, just a shade under Arenado’s .290 mark.

Only 19 when he broke into the big leagues with the 1998 Los Angeles Dodgers, Beltre holds a bevvy of records. The four-time All-Star led his league in home runs (48 for the 2004 Dodgers) and hits (199 for the 2013 Texas Rangers) and is the only player to hit for the cycle three times in the same ballpark (Globe Life Park in Arlington). The captain of the Rangers since 2013, he’s one of two men to produce a cycle and a three-homer game in the same week.

The first Dominican with 3,000 hits, he’s one of six players to have a three-homer game in both the regular season and the postseason.

Beltre’s next target is 500 home runs; he had 462 through April 5.

For a player of his ability, it’s a bit surprising that Beltre has bounced around. He’s played for the Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners in addition to the Dodgers and Rangers. But there’s little doubt he’ll wear a Texas hat on his Hall of Fame plaque – even though he left his marks in Boston, where he was team MVP in 2010, and Seattle, where he hit the first inside-the-park home run in Safeco Field history.

A master of the unorthodox, Beltre has a habit of dropping to one knee while attacking a breaking ball. In the field, he compensates for a unique approach to fielding grounders with quick hands and a strong arm. For a guy who doesn’t wear an athletic supporter, he has to grab the hot shots before they grab him – which happened in 2009. Placed on the disabled list after a grounder nailed him in the groin, Beltre returned to find that Ken Griffey, Jr. had changed his at-bat intro music to The Nutcracker Suite.

Adrian Beltre’s unorthodox batting style hasn’t hurt his production

Respected around the league, Beltre is revered in Texas, where he’s a still-vital elder statesman with a sure ticket to Cooperstown. It may take another 20 years but Nolan Arenado will meet him there.

 

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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