BY BOB BAUM
AP Sports Writer
PHOENIX – Paul Goldschmidt’s teammates have taken to calling him “America’s first baseman,” a heady title for an exceedingly humble young man.
Arizona’s Willie Bloomquist says if you were to make a mold for a young player with the right attitude, work ethic and skills, Goldschmidt would be the guy. His manager, Kirk Gibson, has repeatedly lauded Goldschmidt’s attitude and work ethic.
At 25, in just his second full season in the majors, Goldschmidt has emerged as one of the game’s best. Entering Monday night’s play, he led the National League with 58 RBIs, hitting .322 with 15 home runs.
Four of those were go-ahead homers in the eighth inning or later, the most in the majors. Most recently, his three-run, opposite-field shot off Jeremy Affeldt in the eighth rallied Arizona to a 3-1 victory over San Francisco on Friday. The homer came in a brief home stand after a road trip that saw Goldschmidt hit two grand slams.
That 5-year, $32 million contract Goldschmidt signed before this season looks like a huge bargain.
“Before this even happened, when he first got called up, I said he reminded me of a young Paul Konerko,” Diamondbacks closer J.J. Putz said, “just his studying of the game and the way he handles himself. He’s going to be pretty special for a long time, I think.”
Goldschmidt finds himself in the conversation as a potential MVP, but he said he tries to ignore the inevitable, growing national attention.
“The attitude I have is whether you’re going good or bad, I just stay away,” he said, “don’t read it, don’t listen. I change the channel sometimes on TV. Obviously, if it’s on in the locker room you don’t have that opportunity.
“Like I said, good or bad, that stuff for me, it can distract you. There are enough distractions in this game. You just try to take away the ones you can control.”
Born and raised in the Houston area, Goldschmidt was no big-name prospect as a youngster. He went to Texas State, where he led NCAA Division I in RBIs in 2009, and Arizona chose him in the eighth round of that year’s draft.
Goldschmidt rose steadily and quickly through the Arizona minor league system.
In 2011, he hit .306 with 30 home runs and 94 RBIs in 103 games for Double-A Mobile and was called up by the Diamondbacks for the final 2 months of the season.
Last year, playing regularly in the big leagues for the first time, he started off slowly but finished strong for a .286 average with 20 homers, 43 doubles and 82 RBIs.
There was concern about his defense in his early days as a pro, but he has become one of the better players at his position in the majors.
The error he committed against the Giants on Sunday was only his third of the season.
The Diamondbacks’ front office had seen enough and approached him and his agent about a long-term deal. With the astronomical money being thrown around in the game, Goldschmidt might have been better served by holding off. But he has no regrets.
“I can’t complain,” he said. “I’m extremely excited, happy about it, glad we got it done. I’m excited to be here, love it here. Now I just get to go play.”
Goldschmidt is not a stereotypical power hitter. He is a very good hitter who has power.
“What’s impressive is just not his hitting, but he’s an all-around ball player, a great ballplayer,” San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said, “ a tremendous first baseman and base runner. He can steal a base. He’s got the whole game.”
Goldschmidt said he simply works at making good contact at the plate.
“I just try to hit the ball hard,” he said. “If it gets in the air, I know I’m strong enough if I hit it good with backspin, it can get out of there. But I don’t know how to get in there and try to hit a homer. When I do that I usually strike out or roll over. So everything I’m trying to do is just keep it simple and just hit the ball hard, try to hit a line drive and if you get under it a little bit, hopefully it gets out.”
Always, Goldschmidt tries to deflect praise.
“It’s a team game. That’s why we’re here,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for a lot of other people, so I’m very fortunate that I’ve been surrounded by great guys, not just this clubhouse, but coming up through the minor leagues, college, all the way back. There’s a lot of people that put in a lot of time to help you.”
Goldschmidt is known for his exhaustive preparation. Characteristically, he says that everybody prepares a lot.
“You see, we don’t have a game for 3 hours and guys are here,” he said in a pregame interview in front of his locker at Chase Field. “Guys are watching video, guys are talking. Not to mention the physical stuff you do, like getting in the cage and putting in that type of work. There’s the other stuff, the mental side of it. There’s talking to other guys, trying to study the pitchers.
“There’s definitely a lot to go into it rather than just going out and play. When you go out and play, you just try to go play and let the preparation kind of take over, just relax and see what happens.”
Goldschmidt’s even-keel temperament serves him well through the ups and downs of a season.
“It’s just the nature of the business,” he said. “As a player I just understand that, so I think when you’re going good, you try not to get too excited or too caught up in it. The same thing when you’re going bad, you know that you’re going to eventually hopefully break out of it. So you just try to keep the level-headed mindset the whole year.”
When some players make a mistake, Goldschmidt said, they are motivated by it. When he makes one, he said, it’s best just to move on and not let it affect his defense or his next plate appearance.
“I just try to let it go,” he said.
Goldschmidt is batting .431 with runners in scoring position, .409 with two outs and runners in scoring position.
He said any player loves being in position to win a game in the late innings, and again he notes that more often than not, that person fails.
“Sometimes you come through and then there’s other times you get on a streak where it’s like every time the game is on the line, you don’t do it,” he said. “The numbers are going to even out. Let’s say you do it one out of three times, that’s pretty good if you’re hitting .333, and still twice you had an opportunity to do it and you don’t come through.”
As for the big numbers this season, Goldschmidt refuses to get carried away.
“It is a long year,” he said. “You get hot for a little while and then you struggle. That’s just kind of how it is. When you’re good, it kind of goes ‘Hey, you’re playing better than you should’ and obviously when it’s going bad, you’re not really that bad. So over the long run it evens out. It’s just kind of how the game is.”