By Jack Etkin
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Shortly before spring training last year, Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall received a call from Phoenix Children's Hospital, asking if he was aware that Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and his wife, Amy, had been coming to the hospital every week to visit young patients.
It was news to Hall, but hardly surprising news. Goldschmidt, whose brief career has followed a soaring trajectory, had already amazed Hall by saying he wanted to learn more about what Hall does and more about how the front office functions. So Hall wasn't startled to learn Goldschmidt had been quietly going to the hospital with absolutely no interest in publicizing his visits, no desire to go from room to room with cameras in tow, putting the spotlight on him.
"We got a lot of opportunities playing baseball," Goldschmidt said. "I just wanted to give back a little bit. And an easy way to get involved over there is go hang out with some kids. Honestly, I don't really do that much. I go play video games and take their mind off whatever they're going through. The kids there are unbelievable... Everyone's so positive over there. It's really touching, and I'm just glad to be a small part of it."
Goldschmidt, 26, has emerged as the face of the Diamondbacks franchise after just two full seasons in the majors, including a remarkably robust 2013 when he finished second in voting for the National League Most Valuable Player Award. His OPS has risen from .808 in the final two months of 2011 to .850 in 2012 and a league-leading .952 last year. While ascending on the field, Goldschmidt has grown into larger roles away from it.
Hall took Goldschmidt with him in November to Sydney, Australia to help promote the Diamondbacks' season-opening two-game series with the Los Angeles Dodgers this weekend. And Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers brought Goldschmidt to a meeting in the Los Angeles area with free agent Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, hoping Goldschmidt's presence might give the Diamondbacks a recruiting edge over some of the large-market teams wooing Tanaka. In the end, Tanaka ended up choosing the New York Yankees, but nonetheless, most of Tanaka's questions were directed to Goldschmidt, according to Towers. Casey Close, the agent for Tanaka, later told Towers that Tanaka appreciated Goldschmidt's involvement.
"He knew who Goldschmidt was," Towers said. "He knew the importance of routine and training, and for him to take his time out and come over and try to recruit a player to come to the Diamondbacks that he's never met before and from a foreign country, he did a very good job."
Goldschmidt is maniacal as far as a daily routine. Bob Gebhard, special assistant to Towers, discovered that in December 2012. Gebhard was walking at Arizona's spring training complex in Scottsdale one morning at 8 o'clock when he noticed a lone figure busily working on an agility course. It was Goldschmidt.
"He was doing some stuff to quicken his feet up," Gebhard said. "In December? When you get a player like 'Goldy,' you just hope like hell they never change, and stay that way for their whole career."
Knowing him as they do, the Diamondbacks are confident that will be the case. Goldschmidt joined the Diamondbacks on Aug. 1, 2011, after compiling a .306/.435/.626 slash line at Double-A Mobile with 30 home runs and 94 RBI. He had the rich developmental experience of playing 45 games that season for an Arizona team that was playoff-bound and hit .438/.526/.813 with two homers and six RBI in a seven-game Division Series loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.
In 2012, Goldschmidt hit .286/.359/.490 with 20 homers and 82 RBI, along with 18 stolen bases in 21 attempts. Two days before the start of the 2013 season, the Diamondbacks signed Goldschmidt to a five-year, $32 million contract extension -- a very team-friendly one, as it turned out -- that includes a club option for $14.5 million in 2019. The contract bought out all of Goldschmidt's arbitration-eligible years and his first as a potential free agent.
With the 2013 season winding down, Towers said, "With certain guys, you almost feel maybe buyer's remorse. With him, it was like exciting. I mean regardless of what he's done this year, he's the kind of guy you want to set up for life just because you know he truly, truly appreciates it."
Reminded of his remark this spring, Towers said, "Hopefully, we'll be able to do it again down the road, and this isn't the only one. For his age and as little time in the big leagues, he's the best I've ever been around. ... It's hard to say he's going to get better. But he's even kind of emerging as a leader in our clubhouse. He'll be very good at it."
That was evident earlier this spring when new first base coach Dave McKay was instructing a group about a particular aspect of base running. A couple days later, McKay said he brought up that same situation, asking about the right course of action. When a player gave a hesitant answer, McKay said Goldschmidt suddenly piped up, "Hey, he just told us a couple days ago."
Don Baylor was Arizona's hitting coach last year. In spring training, he had Goldschmidt extensively do drills designed to help him get to balls inside, where Baylor, now the Los Angeles Angels' hitting coach, told Goldschmidt pitchers would attack him.
"It came along a lot sooner than I thought, (to) where he has no fear of it," Baylor said. "A lot of guys fear the ball inside. He fights it off, hits it over to right."
That spring work culminated in a .302/.401/.551 season where Goldschmidt won two-thirds of the Triple Crown. He tied Pittsburgh's Pedro Alvarez for the NL home run lead with 36 and led the league in RBI (125) as well as slugging percentage and total bases (332).
"His approach at the plate for a young kid is more advanced than I've ever seen," said Diamondbacks third baseman Eric Chavez, 36, who has 15 years of service time in the majors. "He's got the approach of a 32-year-old who's been in the league for 10 years. He's phenomenal as far as breaking down pitchers, sitting on 2-1 sliders. Stuff I can't even do. I mean, I hit off the fastball, always. He doesn't. He goes up there and has an idea of what he wants to do, and he sticks with it. And he goes the other way. His opposite field power is amazing.
"(He hit) a couple homers opposite field to win games in late innings where guys, they're trying to pull. But he's staying with his approach and going the other way and getting game-winning homers opposite field. I mean, stuff I've never seen a young guy do before."
Goldschmidt made the NL All-Star team last year and won a Gold Glove for his defense at first base. Another achievement cane in August, when after about a year and a half of course work online, Goldschmidt finished the final year he needed for a bachelor of science degree in management at the University of Phoenix. He worked often on team flights and on the road.
"You make time, if it's important to you," Goldschmidt said. "I knew when I signed I was going to go back and get my degree eventually. I felt like I worked pretty hard at Texas State to go to class and study and make good grades and pretty much didn't want that to go to waste. I knew I was always going to go back. It was just a matter of when."
Goldschmidt was a shortstop at The Woodlands High School in suburban Houston, where one of his teammates was pitcher Kyle Drabek, the 18th overall pick in the 2006 draft and whose father, Doug, won a Cy Young Award. In that 2006 draft, the Dodgers took Goldschmidt in the 49th round. He went to Texas State, moved to first base and was taken by the Diamondbacks in the eighth round in 2009.
"There were two questions (about Goldschmidt)," said Jerry Dipoto, then the Diamondbacks' vice president of scouting and player development, "the relative defense -- and he turned himself into a good first baseman -- and how he handled velocity in, that ball that was kind of in over the hands with what we'd call 92-plus (mph). You have to let that ball travel."
Arizona had eight of the first 95 picks in the draft that year. The Diamondbacks took corner infielders Bobby Borchering in the first round, Matt Davidson as a compensation pick between the first and second rounds, Marc Krauss in the second round and Ryan Wheeler in the fifth round. They all could hit, all were suspect on defense and, said Dipoto, now general manager of the Angels, there was a chance all were going to wind up playing first base.
Goldschmidt was being seriously discussed when the eighth round rolled around. Josh Byrnes, then Arizona's general manager and now in that role with the San Diego Padres, remembers asking to see video of Goldschmidt. There was none, not even one swing, just reports written by scouting director Tom Allison and area scout Trip Couch.
Allison strongly believed Goldschmidt was the right choice at that point in the draft. Dipoto said one of those present in the draft room questioned why not take a more versatile player instead of another first base bat.
"And Tommy said, 'I'll tell you why we'll take the first base bat, because this guy can hit,' " Dipoto said. "And that proved to be prophetic. He went out and hit and never stopped."
Allison, now director of professional scouting for the Seattle Mariners, was relying on input from Couch, who lives in Houston and has known Goldschmidt since he was a sophomore in high school. Couch had even helped coach a summer team on which Goldschmidt played.
"That just makes it a whole lot easier as a (scouting) director when somebody's got that type of conviction in not only his talent but his makeup," Allison said. "It really makes it easy to pull the trigger."
Couch, now an assistant coach at the University of Houston, said of Goldschmidt, "He was just different. He did everything right. He always had the interests of others. It was never about him. He never sought out the spotlight."
Allison's scouting budget called for the eighth-round pick to receive $90,000. Crouch signed Goldschmidt for $95,000, the sort of monetary transgression for an untested amateur that perturbs scouting directors. It turned out to be money well spent for a rising superstar, who has already made an impact on and off the field and should play at least the next five seasons for the Diamondbacks and quite likely, longer.
"A concern anytime you're giving anybody an extended contract for a lot of money is how is going to affect the person," Dipoto said. "In Goldy's case, I don't think you have to worry about that. He's not going to change. He's a magnificent person. He wants to be a better person every day."
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Jack Etkin has covered professional baseball since 1981 for such outlets as the Kansas City Star, Rocky Mountain News, Baseball America, The Sports Xchange and MLB.com.