If you picked one player whose long-term absence would cripple the Colorado Rockies, it wouldn't be 2007 Most Valuable Player candidate Matt Holliday. Nor would it be face-of-the-franchise first baseman Todd Helton, nor starting pitcher Aaron Cook.
Without question, it would be shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
And losing him until at least the All-Star break with a torn tendon in his quadriceps is every bit as devastating for the Colorado Rockies as you can imagine.
Tulowitzki isn't simply a flashy glove. He wasn't just a hot Rookie of the Year candidate in '07.
No, in his one season on the job, Tulowitzki emerged as the Rockies' team leader and model player. Manager Clint Hurdle does not hesitate in saying that things turned around for the Rockies in '07 about a month into the season, when Tulowitzki steadied himself, gained some confidence and took off.
He led all NL rookies last season in hits (177), RBI (99), runs (104) and total bases (292). And according to Stats, Inc., his .987 fielding percentage is the best all-time by a rookie shortstop.
The crushing blow for the Rockies, however, is this: Tulowitzki's importance cannot be measured simply in numbers. As a rookie last season, the kid wouldn't hesitate to bark at a teammate if he thought the guy wasn't doing something the way it should be done -- or, worse yet, loafing.
The only thing that might be more rare than a rookie directing traffic in a major-league clubhouse is everybody else listening. That's the true measure of Tulowitzki's value, and how much respect he commands in the Rockies' clubhouse. Even when he was a 22-year-old rookie, the Rockies took their cues from him.
He was off to a rough start this season, hitting only .152 with one homer and 11 RBI. He already had committed two errors after being charged with only 11 in all of 2007.
The ironic thing is that Tulowitzki dropped 10 pounds over the winter, wanting to get lighter because with Kaz Matsui gone, Tulowitzki knew that he probably would spend much of this season batting second.
And always wanting to make sure to do things the right way, Tulowitzki knew that in the No. 2 hole, he would need his legs more. That particular batting slot demands moving runners over, a higher on-base percentage and perhaps even stealing more bags.
Hurdle was impressed not with the results of Tulowitzki's body-sculpting, but with the forethought that went into it. Again, there was his shortstop, anticipating a play, and then making it.
I loved Hurdle's spring quote when, after Tulowitzki made a backhanded glove-flip to second so start a double play, someone asked him whether it wasn't a little too flashy.
"Come on, guys," Hurdle responded. "Let an artist paint. Let a musician play."
He could say this partly because he knows flash is the last thing TUlowitzki is about. As the manager told me during another conversation in Arizona, "He's not about the bling. He's about trying to get outs."
In Tulowitzki's absence, those outs now will become even more difficult for a struggling Rockies club to obtain.
Colorado will miss him dearly. So, too, will baseball fans who appreciate it when a player comes along who pretty much embodies all that is right about the game.