Troy Tulowitzki went into spring training last year just hoping to secure a spot on the Colorado Rockies' roster. That won't be a concern this season.
Tulowitzki and the NL champions finalized a $31 million, six-year contract on Wednesday that includes a club option for 2014.
"It's surreal," Tulowitzki said. "It's awesome."
The 23-year-old slick-fielding shortstop showed up for his news conference wearing a black suit, white shirt and purple tie, and was flanked by teammates Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins.
Runner-up for NL Rookie of the Year last season, Tulowitzki said he's just getting over the sting of being swept by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.
However, the team's success played a big role in committing to a long-term deal.
"The guys on this team are great baseball players, but more than that they are great guys, great people," Tulowitzki said. "I took that into consideration. I looked at that and said, 'Wow, if we can keep the core guys together, we have the makings to be something special.' "
Holliday agreed last week to a $23 million, two-year contract. Tulowitzki is hopeful that deal gets lengthened.
"He can make tons of money if he tests the free-agent market," Tulowitzki said. "We know that, the organization knows that, everybody in baseball knows that. I'm going to be here for the next six years. I hope he wants to join me."
Tulowitzki gets $750,000 in each of the next two seasons, $3.5 million in 2010, $5.5 million in 2011, $8.5 million in 2012 and $10 million in 2013. The Rockies have a $15 million option for 2014 with a $2 million buyout.
Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd was pleased to strike a deal with Tulowitzki, who hit .291 with 24 home runs and 99 RBIs last season.
"We knew we've got a very special player here," O'Dowd said. "In my career, they come along very rare."
Tulowitzki has spent the offseason in California, working out while living with his parents. Asked if he pays them rent, Tulowitzki grinned and said, "I'm proud to say that it's my place. They're paying me rent."
The fact the season didn't culminate in a World Series title is fueling Tulowitzki's drive.
"I took it hard," he said. "The fact we didn't win, that affected me for a while. If I was in the cage, or lifting, I used that as motivation."
Tulowitzki's life hasn't changed much since his breakout season. He can still go pretty much anywhere without being recognized, though he always seems to get noticed at 7-11.
"Someone might say something to me. But it's cool," he said. "I don't get as much attention as maybe [Todd] Helton and Holliday when I'm with those guys. They don't even know who I am. That's why I like being around Atkins, because nobody knows Garrett. I'm the guy when I'm around him."
He's now the guy with a lot of money. Yet Tulowitzki said the big paycheck won't increase the pressure on him. He's always expected big things from himself.
"I go into the year saying I don't want to make one error," said Tulowitzki, who led all qualifying shortstops in fielding percentage last season by committing only 11 errors in 834 chances. "You've got to strive for perfection. That's how you become better. I want to hit 1.000, I want to make no errors, never strike out. Obviously, it's not going to happen. But if you strive for perfection, you're going to be a better player."
Although Tulowitzki finished a close second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, two points behind Milwaukee third baseman Ryan Braun, he wasn't disappointed. Colorado's long postseason run meant more to him than awards.
"Braun had an excellent [season]. His offensive numbers were unbelievable," Tulowitzki said. "But the Rockies made it farther than the Brewers. I'm sure he would've traded in his Rookie of the Year trophy to get into the playoffs."
Tulowitzki has always had confidence in his skills on the diamond. That's why he went into spring training last season believing he could win the shortstop job from Clint Barmes, which he eventually did.
"I didn't go in timid or scared," Tulowitzki said. "I had a goal in mind and I achieved that goal."
Yet his confidence wavered a little bit because of a slump in late April that dropped his average to .185.
He was benched for a game against the New York Mets, and the break helped. He began to find his rhythm at the plate, collecting at least one hit in 12 of his next 13 games.
"It wakes you up," he said of the slump. "As soon as I relaxed and played my game, and had fun out there, it really turned around."
Tulowitzki has grown close to Holliday, even crediting him with the fast start to his career. He's hoping Holliday stays around as long as he does.
"I pray that there's more years because he helped me so much last year to become a better baseball player and become a better person," Tulowitzki said. "I hope that he's around me for my whole career."
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