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 TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -Troy Tulowitzki pulled up to Hi Corbett Field in a shiny black Maserati GranTurismo sports car, backed into his parking spot under the high desert palms and stepped out with a smile as big as the engine.
``A lot can change in a year,'' said the 23-year-old budding star who was tooling around in an SUV this time last spring training.
Back then, he was hoping to skip Triple-A altogether and break camp with the Colorado Rockies, but there was no guarantee he'd beat out Clint Barmes for the starting shortstop job.
Now, he's the marquee player on a young team that is coming off its first NL pennant, one fueled by his phenomenal performance in the field, at the plate and in the clubhouse. He became a respected leader among established veterans including Todd Helton and Matt Holliday despite having played barely a year in the minor leagues.
Tulowitzki led big league shortstops in fielding percentage last year, got to many more balls than anyone at his position and even turned an unassisted triple play, just the 13th in major league history.
He also set an NL rookie record for home runs by a shortstop (24) and batted .291 with 99 RBIs as the Rockies surged to their first World Series.
The crowds at Coors Field began a rhythmic chant for Tulowitzki, and Colorado set a big league record for fielding percentage.
``He made some plays that were jaw-dropping, eye-opening, take-your-breath-away,'' manager Clint Hurdle said Thursday. ``He showed some leadership traits for a young player that I hadn't seen before on the field in the heat of battle. Some big swings of the bat late in games that you don't count on.
``But about two-thirds of the way through the season, nothing he did after that kind of surprised us. He threw a lot at us in a hurry.''
His meteoric rise even took Tulowitzki by surprise.
``I think I came a long way in a year,'' Tulowitzki told The Associated Press. ``Last year I came in just competing for a job. This year I come in and it's a whole different spring training for me.''
Despite having one of the best years ever by a National League shortstop, Tulowitzki was edged by Milwaukee slugger Ryan Braun for Rookie of the Year honors, and Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins won the NL Gold Glove.
Tulowitzki swears the snubs didn't sting.
He marveled at Braun, who edged him by two points in the balloting.
``You look at his offensive numbers, they were some of the best ever,'' Tulowitzki said. ``I was satisfied with my year. I wasn't mad one bit that he got the award. It would have been nice to get recognized, yeah, but in the end, my team went to the World Series. I'm thinking he would have traded in the Rookie of the Year trophy for the Brewers to go to the World Series.''
And Tulowitzki figures to get plenty more chances to win a Gold Glove.
``If there's one award that I would really want in my career it would be the Gold Glove. I pride myself on defense, that's my specialty,'' Tulowitzki said. ``I put a lot of time and work into it, so to get a Gold Glove would be really neat.''
Tulowitzki didn't collect any offseason hardware but he did hit the jackpot.
His six-year, $31 million deal he signed last month is the highest-ever for a second-year player. He used a nice signing bonus along with his World Series share to purchase his $115,000 high-performance sports car, one he'd dreamed of owning since high school, when he drove a Honda Accord and his father's Ford Taurus.
``I'm really into cars,'' Tulowitzki said. ``I was always looking online at cars and always saying if I ever ran into some money, this is what I would get. An old-school Camaro is one of them, a Maserati and a Cadillac Escalade were my three dream cars. And the next one to work on is a muscle car.''
Not that he spent his whole winter behind the wheel of his spiffy new automobile.
Tulowitzki gave his running shoes a good workout, arriving at Hi Corbett Field last week 12 pounds lighter so that he could move into the No. 2 spot in the batting order following the free agent departure of Kaz Matsui.
``Hopefully, I can get some more range, or be a little quicker, steal some bases,'' said Tulowitzki, who now packs just 193 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. ``My stealing bases is not going to come from pure speed. It's going to come from knowing the game and getting good jumps and picking up on little things.''
Tulowitzki said he thinks he can also get to more groundballs now, even though his .987 fielding percentage last season was the best ever by a rookie shortstop.
``I don't know if I can imagine a better-fielding Tulowitzki,'' ace right-hander Aaron Cook said. ``But if he felt like he couldn't get to some balls and he's going to get to them this year, I can't wait to see the plays he's going to make.''
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