May 2, 2011
The Colorado Rockies third baseman of the future has been stuck in the past.
That’s about to change. On Monday night, the Colorado Rockies recalled third baseman Ian Stewart, ending his highly successful return to the Sky Sox. He hopes – as everyone who supports the Rockies hopes – he revived his sagging career in Colorado Springs.
For years, the word potential has followed Stewart, but he’s fast approaching the day he has must make good on his promise. He’s 25, no longer a boyish phenom.
It’s time to deliver.
Earlier this season, Stewart struggled mightily with the Rockies, which led to his demotion to the Springs.
“It’s been humbling,” Stewart said, shrugging last week as he stood in front of his Sky Sox locker.
It hasn’t always been humbling. On Aug. 21, 2007, Stewart launched a grand-slam home run in his ninth at-bat for the Rockies. As he rounded the bases, his future looked clear. He would work alongside shortstop Troy Tulowitzki for a decade or more.
Instead, Stewart has wandered. He struck out 238 times in 2007 and 2008. The Rockies, who are dominating the National League West, are losing patience.
Tulowitzki talked Sunday at Coors Field. It’s clear he supports Stewart. It’s also clear he expects more from Stewart.
“Ian can be one of the finest third basemen in the game,” Tulowitzki said. “It’s up to him if he wants to get to that level or not.
“You got to put in the work if you want to be the best. I’m not saying he doesn’t do the work but at the same time there’s been potential for him for a long time. There comes a season where it’s make or break.”
And this might be that make-or-break season.
Stewart, focused on his career revival, declined to sulk during his days at Security Service Field. He was a laughing, encouraging presence.
Last week he engaged in intense video-game battles with his Sky Sox teammates, taunting after victories and happily enduring taunts after losses.
He searched for positives in his return to Triple A. He played every day. He regained belief in his swing. No doubt, he crushed the ball. Stewart hit .361 with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 32 at bats.
The word potential follows Stewart, and with good reason. He’s blessed with immense gifts. The question is if he will ever fully harness them.
“It’s definitely still there,” Stewart said, referring to his talent. “But for me to produce and to play up to my ability, I have to play every day.
“Coming down here, most of it was on me. I wasn’t producing, so there’s no hard feelings, but if they want the results, I got to play every day.”
Stewart doesn’t hide his expectations; he’s virtually demanding to play full time for the Rockies. In the course of a 10-minute conversation, he mentioned his need to play “every day” four times.
Those are big words, especially from a player who collected two hits in 26 at bats for the Rockies this season.
But Stewart has a supporter, an important one, in the Rockies clubhouse. Manager Jim Tracy remains an unabashed fan.
“He’s not a good kid,” Tracy said. “He’s a great kid.”
No one on the Rockies wanted to ship Stewart to the Springs, where he spent portions of the 2007 and 2008 season. Stewart, and everyone else, believed he was done with minor-league baseball.
Tracy envisioned Stewart spending this entire season at Coors Field. Tracy still sees Stewart residing at third base for the Rockies far into the future.
“The potential is off the charts,” Tracy said. “It is off the charts. He’s as good a defensive third baseman as there is in the game. That’s how good he is.”
Tracy does not speak empty words. Last Tuesday, Stewart offered yet another hint of what he could become. Light snow was falling at Security Service Field when Stewart attacked a fastball.
It was a memorable assault. Stewart crushed the pitch, powering a moon shot that rose to astonishing heights before landing behind the right-field fence. Stewart had a slight grin on his face as he jogged the bases.
Even in the middle of an unwelcome return to yesterday, there was no hiding Stewart’s potential.
Sorry, there’s that word again.