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Arenado on Colorado altitude, family whiffleball and HR power

Sandy Huffaker for ESPN

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's June 27 Muhammad Ali Issue. Subscribe today!

IN NOLAN ARENADO'S three full seasons with the Rockies, he's earned a rep as the game's best defensive third baseman, winning three Gold Gloves. Now in his fourth campaign, the 25-year-old has added another line on his résumé: the NL's best power hitter. Through June 13, he was leading the league in RBIs (53) and homers (19) -- just as he did last year (130 and 42). So we asked the Rockies star to break down how he reached All-Star status and what he's learned along the way, inside the park and outside it.

THE HOT CORNER: NOT AS EASY AS IT LOOKS.
My development was at shortstop, but my range wasn't there. Since going to third, I've learned how hard the ball gets hit over there -- it's so much quicker. And that throw [to first] is longer than people think. But I believe in my instincts. And I always visualize before the play happens.

THE KEY TO CRUSHING IT? STAY BACK.
I've learned to really sit on my back leg. My first couple of years, I always drifted forward, so the power was never there. I back-leg the ball more nowadays. Going to the plate now, I think about crushing the ball as hard as I can instead of saying, "Hey, battle here." My second year in the league is when I started figuring it out.

LIFE AT 5,000 FEET CAN BE BRUTAL.
I don't know that other 25-year-olds in this league are going through the soreness I am every day after a game. Playing with Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, who both had injuries here, I wanted to do something to prevent getting to that point. Tulo always told me, "If you start this routine early, you won't be like me." He said you have to take care of your body. So I sleep a lot now. I get massages. I get treatment. I drink a lot of water.

WHEN MEETING YOUR IDOL, PLAY IT COOL.
Some of the best times I've ever had have been just hanging out with baseball players and talking about their approach. I talked to CarGo and Adrian Beltre about how you have to stay confident, because this game will break you down, but it's going to turn out all right if you work hard. To hear that from Beltre, who is my favorite baseball player, was probably the coolest thing I have heard in a long time.

COORS FIELD IS A GLASS HALF FULL.
Don't get me wrong. I wish we played to a full stadium all the time, but winning does that too, and we haven't been winning. Look at the Royals. They're a small-market team, but they win. Now people know who they are.

IT'S NOT FAMILY BONDING UNLESS SOMEONE'S LOSING.
I play whiffle ball with my family every Wednesday night. There are two teams. The ballplayers -- me, Trayce Thompson, [my brother] Jonah and my cousin Josh Fuentes, who plays in the minors for the Rockies -- we all have to hit lefty. The four guys on the other team -- my older brother Cousy and three cousins -- don't play baseball, so they can hit however they want. Trayce thinks he's the best, but he's not. I am. It's not even funny. They all know it.

LOS ANGELES IS IN THE PAST.
Growing up [in Orange County], we went to a lot of Dodgers games and a lot of Angels games. I think my first Dodgers game was against the Giants, and that was my real first taste of Dodger Stadium -- "Oh, man, this place is kind of crazy." I loved it. I loved Eric Karros, I loved Adrian Beltre, I loved Shawn Green. I would have loved to go to the Dodgers, but they didn't look at me as a top-rounder. That bothered me. And now, since they won the division the last three years, I don't root for them no more.

WHEN KERSHAW PITCHES, FAKE SICK.
Clayton Kershaw's slider is the hardest pitch in MLB to hit. Sometimes I see it, and when I swing I just flat-out miss it by so much. I thought I had it, I thought I was on it! I can't figure it out.

BUNTS ARE THE WORST. AND SO IS DENARD SPAN.
He has laid down a couple of bunts against me that made me mad. I hate him more than anything [laughs]! Then I see him score, see him high-fiving, and it drives me crazy.

THOSE CONFINES? NOT SO FRIENDLY.
Wrigley is one of my least favorite parks to visit because the clubhouse is tough. And the atmosphere -- they're mean fans! I feel like the pitcher is really close to me on that mound. It's uncomfortable.

THE BEST OFF-DAY IS NO DAY AT THE PARK.
I like to move around. I like to sweat. I go with DJ LeMahieu and Charlie Blackmon to Todd Helton's ranch. We'll go fishing and shoot target practice. It's relaxing. It's like an hour and a half away from Denver, and it's like we're really away.