March 03, 2017

Every once in a while, Nolan Arenado runs across a story that mentions his name and makes him shake his head.

''I don't know where some of it comes from,'' the Colorado Rockies All-Star third baseman laughed.

Being the face of a franchise and doing so many cool things, facts sometimes get intermingled with good fiction.

Fact: He did go to Cuba this offseason to visit his roots.

Fiction: The four-time Gold Glover didn't demand the Rockies switch to a lighter shade of purple on their uniforms this season.

Fact: He contemplated playing for Puerto Rico in the upcoming World Baseball Classic before joining Team USA.

Undisputed fact: He stacks up with baseball's best.

Arenado is coming off a season in which he led the majors in RBIs (133) and tied for the NL lead in homers (41). Those are lofty stats, but Arenado feels confident he can replicate them.

''If I stay on the field, the numbers will be there,'' said Arenado, who played in a career-high 160 games last season as he finished fifth in the NL MVP voting. ''I believe I can do some good things. I want to better with at-bats, be better on the road, be better against better pitching. I believe I'm very capable of doing those things.''

No matter how good he hits, there will always be a faction of fans that thinks of him as a fielder first. He appreciates that sentiment and is typically good for at least one highlight-reel play a game at third base. It's been that way since he came up in 2013 and captured his first Gold Glove - an award he's never relinquished.

''I take a lot of pride in helping my pitchers out,'' Arenado said. ''I work extremely hard to be good in the field.''

This eased his mind in the offseason: A $29.5 million, two-year contract to avoid arbitration.

''Now all I have to worry about is going out there and getting ready to play,'' said Arenado, who turns 26 on April 16.

This spring, the Rockies headed into camp with something that's been a little foreign to them lately - expectations. With the arrival of manager Bud Black, another powerful bat in the lineup with first-baseman-in-training Ian Desmond, and a bona fide closer in Greg Holland - he's returning from elbow surgery - the Rockies are a trendy pick to challenge for a playoff spot.

''It's definitely a different vibe,'' Arenado said. ''When you have new things, new people around, you can't wait to come to the ball park.''

Recently, the Rockies unveiled jerseys featuring a different shade of purple. There were internet rumors that Arenado was the impetus for the color swap, that he didn't like the darker version.

''Extremely false, honestly,'' Arenado good-naturedly said. ''I would never sit here and say, `We better change the color of purple or I won't be happy.' Whatever has more wins, that's the jersey I want.''

One more fact: He approached legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully to sign his bat after hitting his 40th homer at Dodger Stadium last season. It's a cherished memento.

''That shows what kind of person he is, that he takes the time for me - a Rockies player,'' Arenado said. ''It meant a lot to me, especially being from California.''

Arenado had quite an adventurous offseason. He attended the Rose Bowl game - he's a big Southern California fan - and played tons of backyard Wiffle Ball with his family. He also visited Cuba with his parents, Millie and Fernando. His father is of Cuban descent and his mother of Puerto Rican lineage. While there, Arenado even squeezed in some softball.

''The people are amazing, beautiful and loving,'' Arenado said of his trip. ''I can't wait to go back.''

Although he has Cuban lineage, he said the nation wouldn't allow him to play for them at the World Baseball Classic. So he was torn between suiting up for Puerto Rico or Team USA. In the end, he didn't feel right about taking a possible spot from a Puerto Rican-born player when he was raised in California.

''It was a tough decision, but I thought it was the right thing to do,'' said Arenado, whose U.S. squad opens pool on March 10 against Colombia in Miami. ''It means a lot and I will do whatever I have to do to help us win this thing.''

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