Richard Justice: Paul Goldschmidt is the National League MVP, which surprises pretty much none of his friends here in Texas

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Joe Puetz/AP/Shutterstock (13363414f) St. Louis Cardinals’ Paul Goldschmidt (46) is congratulated after hitting a two-run home run in the first inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, in St. Louis Cubs Cardinals Baseball, St. Louis, United States – 03 Sep 2022

Richard Justice: Paul Goldschmidt is the National League MVP, which surprises pretty much none of his friends here in Texas

   Paul Goldschmidt had just gotten a telephone call from the Arizona Diamondbacks informing him that they’d made him the 246th pick of the 2009 Major League Baseball Draft. He was 21 years old and devastated that the thing he’d dreamed of his entire life might not happen.

   That 245 other players had been selected before him was baseball’s not-so-subtle message that there were doubts about Paul Goldschmidt ever playing major league baseball. His parents, David and Kim, remember watching their son say nothing as he retreated to his bedroom at their home in The Woodlands that day.

Later, after what must have seemed like an eternity, Paul came downstairs and approached them. He was going to use this bitterly disappointing moment as motivation, and he was going to work harder than he’d ever worked before and prove ‘em wrong. He did just that, making his major league debut two years later, in 2011, and now at 35 has long since established himself as one of the best players of his generation.

   Goldschmidt’s baseball career came full circle on Thursday when the 12-year veteran was named the 2022 National League Most Valuable Player after a season in which he produced 35 homers, 41 doubles, 115 RBIs, and an NL-best .981 on-base-plus-slugging for the St. Louis Cardinals.

   He’d come close before, finishing second twice, third once, and sixth twice in MVP balloting. This time, he received 22 of 30 first-place votes and easily out-distanced runner-up Manny Machado.

“It’s a great honor,” he told MLB Network. “But it isn’t just about me. It’s about the teammates I’ve had and the coaches and guys I’ve played with in the past. Even guys I haven’t played with. I’ve learned a lot from a lot of different players. And I hope they know how much of an effect they had on my career. You know, my family, my parents, coaches that go all the way back to Little League and select ball and scouts and minor league coaches.

“There’s been so many people that have helped me, and I just feel like God has blessed me to surround me with great people. And I’ve just tried to soak up their knowledge and wisdom and try to use it to the best of my ability. This was my best year and the most fun I’ve had, you know, playing with Nolan (Arenado) and Albert (Pujols) and so many guys.”

If there’s a number that puts his season in context, it’s his 180 OPS+. With 100 being the league average, Goldschmidt had a season that was 80 percent above that. He was among the NL’s top five in WAR (7.8), on-base percentage (.404), batting average (.317), home runs (35,) and RBIs (115).

   Last year, in researching a piece on Goldschmidt, I began collecting stories from some of the people that shared his career and knew him best.

   Ty Harrington, Goldschmidt’s coach at Texas State, remembers spotting his first baseman in a batting cage just hours after his team returned from a nine-hour bus trip at 1 a.m. Harrington said he has never known anyone more committed to being great.

   “He doesn’t just like it; he loves it,” he said. “And it’s not just the games. He loves the grind, the thinking things through. I’ve had a lot of great players, a lot of big leaguers, but he was probably the most efficient and organized and diligent worker that I’ve ever been around.”

   Another ringing endorsement came from Houston attorney Mike Rutledge, who runs Kyle Chapman Baseball, a by-invitation-only program designed to land college scholarships for baseball players.

   “I tell people that we want good young men first and good baseball players second,” he said. “And I tell them Paul Goldschmidt is our gold standard.”

   Once, when a new player—Zach McAllister, who pitched eight seasons in the major leagues—joined the team, Rutledge assigned him to be Goldschmidt’s roommate on a road trip.

   “This kid was from Illinois and didn’t know anyone,” he said. “But I knew Paul would make sure he felt at home. Two days later, it was like he’d been with us the whole time. Paul brought him into the circle. He’s just that kind of guy.”

   At The Woodlands High School, Goldschmidt will be forever known for the monster home run he hit atop a shed in straight-away center field at Dell Diamond in Round Rock to win the 2006 state championship.

   During Goldschmidt’s first two big-league seasons with the Diamondbacks, teammates took note of him typing furiously into his laptop in clubhouses and on planes.

   That’s how he finished his bachelor’s degree in management, which he received from the University of Phoenix in 2013. (He had carried a 3.87 GPA in finance at Texas State and was ten hours short of earning his degree when he got drafted and left school after his junior season.)

Goldschmidt was traded from the Diamondbacks to the Cardinals before the 2019 season, and like many others before him, discovered that every day of the season is baseball season in St. Louis. The Cardinals pack Busch Stadium every game, and the expectation is that anything less than a World Series is a failure.

Goldschmidt understands that playing for the Cardinals is way different than most places. He’s the first Cardinals MVP since Albert Pujols, and after receiving congratulatory text messages from team owner Bill DeWitt and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, he thanked them for making him part of baseball in St. Louis.

“I said I’m very proud that I was able to do it in the Cardinals uniform and carry on the tradition,” Goldschmidt said. “And I think that’s something we don’t take lightly here in St. Louis; the fans don’t take lightly. The tradition has been set here, and there’s an expectation of greatness, and you feel it every day. (That’s) something I love… and if you don’t love it, you’re probably not going to be here very long. It’s not just individual greatness, but team greatness.”

   Teammates have long been impressed by Goldschmidt’s attention to detail, right down to pouring a cup of coffee and leaving it in his locker when he headed to an indoor batting cage. He knew precisely how long he’d be in the cage and that the coffee would be at his preferred drinking temperature when he returned.

   The Diamondbacks nicknamed him “America’s First Baseman” as a tribute to his professionalism, community work, and popularity in the clubhouse. Goldschmidt hated it. When someone had “America’s First Baseman” T-shirts made, he asked his teammates not to wear them in public.

   “I’m not going to get mad at guys having fun,” he said at the time. “But I’m sure not going to wear it.”

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