- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Heading downstairs early in the morning in Houston last week, Arizona Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale walked into the hotel’s exercise area. The Diamondbacks were in town for a three-game series against the Astros before heading to Washington for four games. When Hale popped the door open, he saw something that would be a surprise in most situations, yet wasn’t. The team’s best player, Paul Goldschmidt, was already on an elliptical, working out on his own.

Those instances lead to ubiquitous praise for Goldschmidt. People who deal with him drop superlatives, then search for others to further relay all the benefits Goldschmidt brings to the Diamondbacks. If the descriptions weren’t repeated, they would seem farcical, one-off claims.

“The ideal baseball player, the ideal person, husband, son,” Hale said. “Everything he does is perfect.”

“He does the right thing all the time,” said Nationals manager Matt Williams, who coached Goldschmidt in Arizona.

Goldschmidt continues to thump baseballs without glare from the national spotlight facing him. He has had three consecutive all-star appearances and a second-place finish in National League MVP voting in 2013, and, entering Tuesday, leads the NL in hits during an era when offense has died. There will be no chest puffing from Goldschmidt, however.

“There’s always ways to improve,” Goldschmidt said.

Jokes aren’t necessary to make him laugh. Instead, ask if he thinks about words like “brand.” It’s odd to perceive an annual all-star, a well-balanced No. 3 hitter, someone atop the opponents’ pre-series pitching meetings, as an entity toiling in the shade. But, that may be the case for Goldschmidt, who, at 27 years old, is an epic and underexposed bargain.

“In the baseball world, everyone knows who he is,” Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez said.

When Goldschmidt signed a five-year contract extension for $32 million in 2013, the first baseman had finished his second major-league season. At the time, the deal appeared a bargain. Goldschmidt had hit 20 home runs as a 24-year-old, and had 18 stolen bases and an .850 OPS. Evidence that he was about to bloom was ample.

“Early on, we knew he had big power going through the minor leagues,” Williams said.

After signing the extension, Goldschmidt led the league in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, OPS, total bases and intentional walks. He also stole 15 bases, hit .302 and won a Gold Glove.

A similar pace followed in 2014, before he was hit by a pitch in August that fractured his left hand. His season ended. At the time, he led the league in doubles and extra-base hits, and was tied for first in runs, was second in total bases and was third in RBI and walks.

He’s been a well-rounded force again this season. He entered Tuesday leading the league with a .339 batting average, 83 walks, a .454 on-base percentage and 23 intentional walks. He’s fourth in home runs and second in RBI. He’s third among hitters in WAR, trailing only Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. As much as Harper has carried the water for the Nationals, Goldschmidt is merging hydrogen and oxygen for the Diamondbacks, and that work has turned his contract into one of the laughable deals in the sport.

Goldschmidt doesn’t use social media. He said he doesn’t read anything about himself and little that is written about the team. When he steps away from baseball, it’s with a complete and long stride.

“Everyone once in a while you check in, you have friends or buddies or guys you played with or against,” Goldschmidt said. “But, for the most part, when I get away from the field, I try to get away from baseball as much as possible.”
He does find the thought of branding and marketing somewhat amusing.

“I’m not opposed to any of that,” he said with a laugh. “I just think, for me, my focus is go out there and play. That’s what I get paid to do. Each person can do their own thing. Some guys want to be out there. I value my privacy and my time away from the game, my time at home with family and friends.”

He continually works in the field and at the plate, though he’s not much for video or in-depth scouting, leaning more on instincts. In team meetings, he tries to help teammates, according to Hale. Goldschmidt’s help-all demeanor sometimes wades onto the field.

“There’s situations a lot where he’ll tell his teammates, ‘Hey, I’m going to let you steal a base here,’ and we’re like, ‘Whoa. If you get something you can hit out of here, go ahead and do it,’” Hale said. “He almost thinks like a secondary player would. His mind is always thinking about his teammates. I think the branding thing is the farthest thing from his mind.”

Then, because Goldschmidt and branding were mentioned, Hale chuckled.
Rattling off what’s important to him in baseball, Goldschmidt sounds like the author of a good manners handbook: Hustle, be prepared, play the game the right way, be a good teammate. He’s not concerned with perception of him, which is one of the influences that makes that perception so positive.

“It’s what you want to do, but a lot of times you can’t control other guys’ opinion about you,” Goldschmidt said. “You just try to go out there and do the best you can.”

So far, that has been good enough, even if the spotlight is pivoted somewhere else.

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