DENVER - On the day of a game, Troy Tulowitzki endures a pregame routine that would thrill a CrossFit coach. His formula of lifting, stretching and proper nutrition suggests the professionalism of a five-star chef grilling a $60 Filet.
Smiles must wait.
Here, in front of a locker arranged just so, you get the answer to the singular question that matters. When is it OK to believe the Rockies are a contender in the National League West? The answer: When Tulo smiles.
"Am I having fun? Yeah, I am," Tulo told me Thursday before the Rockies opened a weekend series against the Mets at Coors Field. "But people who watch me will say that my fun doesn't come until we're in the hunt for the postseason and reach the playoffs and get into the postseason.
"I'm pretty focused every day. I'm not going to give you too many smiles on the field. That's just the way I am. I'll always be like that. I think people understand that."
With a promising start, the Rockies are teasing Colorado again. As of May 1, another hard-hitting lineup and duct-taped pitching staff had the club coming off series wins - on the road! - against Los Angeles and Arizona, a pair of division rivals.
The Rockies own six series wins against two series losses. They are winning road games, the most important development a team at altitude can experience.
They were 1.5 games back of first place. The Rockies again are sticking a carrot in front of Colorado's baseball fans like the latter were Todd Helton's horse.
"Some people are starting to jump on board," Tulo said. "But at the same time there's still a long way to go."
Are the Rockies contenders in the NL West? Not yet. Tulo wasn't smiling.
Hey, he's doing everything else. Entering Monday, baseball's best shortstop led the NL in runs (24), on-base percentage (.477), extra-base hits (17) and slugging percentage (.727). He's second in batting average (.364), walks (22) and third in RBIs (22).
He stinks at smiles. Actually, Tulo might be awesome at smiles. We just don't find out often enough. If the Rockies and their front office can prove their start isn't flukier than a 1-0 pitcher's duel at Coors Field, there would be smiles for everyone.
"All we can ask for is we're playing meaningful baseball in September," first baseman Justin Morneau said. "There's no reason to believe we won't be in that race, in that conversation."
Tulo, like the rest of us, has witnessed this kind of promising start before. Last year, for example. Heading into a game on May1, those Rockies were 16-11.
These Rockies were 16-13.
Those Rockies had six series wins.
These Rockies have, well, you know.
"It's still early," Tulo said.
In his eight full seasons in Colorado, Tulo's teams advanced to the playoffs twice, in 2007 and 2009. What did those locker rooms share in common?
"Team. We were a team. Those teams meshed as a group," Tulo said. "That's what we're trying to get with some of these young guys to understand: it's not about talent all the time. Talent is something we do have, which is nice.
"But at the same time we need to be in a place where everybody's fighting for each other. The next guy is just as important as yourself."
Are these Rockies contenders in the NL West?
Not yet. Not until Tulo smiles.