How Nolan Arenado found the baseball fountain of youth

    ESPN MLB insider
    Author of “The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports”

TWO DAYS AFTER his 2021 season ended, Nolan Arenado found himself standing on a driving range, shirtless, with stickers attached to his torso and a bat in his hands. The St. Louis Cardinals’ otherworldly third baseman was in Oceanside, California, at the Titleist Performance Institute, taking batting practice on a field more often littered with golf balls than baseballs. He was ready to embark on the most important winter of his life, one in which he chased around the country the one thing that for so long never was in doubt: his greatness.

Arenado’s baseball walkabout started after a season that registered as a great success by traditional measures. He hit 34 home runs, drove in 105 runs, won his ninth consecutive Gold Glove and made his sixth All-Star team. And yet far too many times for his liking, Arenado found himself in positions of discomfort and uncertainty, the excellence that defined him fleeting.

“It was brutal,” Arenado said. “I’d have a good game. The next day, I just couldn’t feel it again. Like, dude, what just happened? That’s baseball. That’s gonna happen. But it was way too quick. Listen, I’m not the greatest hitter in the game. But I know when I feel right. And it just wouldn’t last long.”

Thus began the journey that has taken him here: hitting .311/.370/.582 with seven home runs and 27 RBIs in 32 games. A month into the 2022 season, Arenado is again one of the best players in Major League Baseball. He is, as the Cardinals ready to host the San Francisco Giants on Sunday Night Baseball, fourth in MLB in wins above replacement and looking far more like the superstar Rockie from the late 2010s than the player he was last year in his first season with St. Louis.

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