Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki embraces his NCAA roots

Troy Tulowitzki, pictured above. (Nathan Denette/CP)

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Troy Tulowitzki is a dirtbag, and he loves it.

The five-time All-Star shortstop is an old-school, throwback type of player in a sport where bat-flipping, look-at-me guys get plenty of attention.

"No doubt, that’s me," Tulowitzki said. "I think it’s how I grew up, how my father taught me how to play the game. Going to college, to Long Beach State, I really became that dirtbag type of player, someone who is going to do anything to help their team win. I carried that over and it’s helped me in my career."

Of course, Tulowitzki’s old school’s nickname is Dirtbags. He’s one of several Long Beach State alums in the majors, a group that includes Rays third baseman Evan Longoria and Tulowitzki’s teammate, right-hander Marco Estrada.

Now 32, Tulowitzki is entering his second full season in Toronto after 9 1/2 years in Colorado. He already played in two AL Championship Series with the Blue Jays and is looking for his first World Series ring.

"Winning has been fun," Tulowitzki said. "Coming over here and being in two ALCS already has been great. It’s a veteran group now trying to finish the job. We know we have a good team. We have to stay the course and play our best baseball late."

Tulowitzki was the franchise player for the Rockies. He helped them win an NL pennant his rookie season in 2007 and they reached the post-season again in 2009. Tulowitzki was given a $157.75 million, 10-year contract running through 2020 but was traded to Toronto in 2015 while the Rockies were struggling through another losing season.

Despite the shock of the trade — Tulowitzki hoped to play for one team his entire career like his childhood hero Cal Ripken Jr. — he quickly adapted to his new team and helped the Blue Jays end a 21-year post-season drought.

Tulowitzki has won two Gold Gloves, hit 217 homers and has a .292 career average. Personal accomplishments don’t mean as much to him as a chance to earn that championship ring.

"Just win, man," he said with a smile. "It’s all about winning. I come to the ballpark every day and try to get better, try to help my teammates get better. I’m focused on winning, having fun out there and enjoying it. It’s really what you learn over the years. You learn to enjoy the game and that you don’t play for any reason other than to win."

Tulowitzki’s work ethic, attitude and skills make him a favourite for old-school thinkers and sabermetricians.

"You build teams around guys like that," Phillies bench coach Larry Bowa said.

Tulowitzki has battled injuries the past few seasons, but he played in 131 games last year. He has only played more than 140 games three times in his career, none since 2011. Tulowitzki’s .254 average last season was a career-low but he hit 24 homers and drove in 79 runs.

The Blue Jays have a lineup filled with sluggers. While Edwin Encarnacion and 2016 All-Star Michael Saunders became free agents and left, they added Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce and re-signed Jose Bautista.

"Games are tough enough," Tulowitzki said. "If you put added pressure on yourself, you’re going to make it a long year."

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