Detroit Tigers' Niko Goodrum could be the leader to pull team out of losing mentality
FORT MYERS, Fla. — No one ever had to tell Tim and Connie Goodrum’s kid to make his bed. Or take out the trash. Or do his homework.
Niko Goodrum took care of that all by himself growing up. He knew what needed to be done and did it.
As he embarks on a new season and a new opportunity to be the Detroit Tigers’ everyday shortstop after serving as a super-utility player last year, he’s ready to do what needs to be done again. He knows he has to help provide leadership on a team that continues to build.
“As far as that, I just want the best for everybody and myself,” he said. “I want to win and you’ve got to do certain things to win and I expect a lot out of everyone, I expect a lot out of myself. And we’ve got to push each other.
“But building chemistry as a team is important. That chemistry is on and off the field. It goes a long way. But for me, it’s saying stuff when you need to be saying stuff, checking everybody. No one’s exempt from it, even checking me, and always working hard and handling your business.”
In big-league baseball, getting everyone to row in the same direction isn’t always easy. And confronting them when they aren’t is even harder. It’s a chore, and a thankless and unpopular one at that.
But Goodrum knows if the Tigers are going to take steps forward this season, every player has to handle his business and be accountable.
“This is why we’re here,” he said. “You don’t go city to city for vacations. We’re going city to city to play baseball. We’re in Detroit to play baseball.
“As long as everyone keeps the same mindset, winning and preparing, setting yourself up to win and be great and succeed, I think we’ll be all right. ... I’m excited about it.”
Don’t get the wrong idea about Goodrum. He’s deadly serious about wanting to get better. But he’s more of a happy warrior than a drill sergeant. He knows accountability and responsibility spring from different places, but most effectively from a place of camaraderie forged from strong relationships.
“Yeah, it’s having a good time and being able to laugh at each other and bring light sometimes to the failure,” he said. “There’s a lot of that and you can’t allow people to get just so bogged down in failure, because this is a game of failure, so it’s going to happen.”
Goodrum said building chemistry away from the ballpark is paramount. Occasional dinners. Maybe some fun at TopGolf.
“That’s how you build relationships,” he said. “You’ve got to be around them and speak to them. You can’t just be, ‘I’ll see you,’ and then you’re gone somewhere else. I feel we have a good group and people who are people persons. It’s good and I enjoy everyone.”
His words might carry a little more weight because he was the ultimate team player last year. He’s a natural shortstop, but when the Tigers needed him, he stepped up and played every position except pitcher and catcher.
This season, he’s slated to be the team’s everyday shortstop.
“Yeah, I’m excited,” he said. “You know, one position. I’ve played every day, it just wasn’t one position every day. It’s going to be pretty good. I’m excited for it and to be able get better every day. That’s our goal here.”
Now that he’s settling back in at short, Goodrum wants to improve his mobility. And thanks to the new groin manager Ron Gardenhire said he ordered for him on his 28th birthday on Friday, Goodrum is back and playing after about a week off.
“Yeah, Amazon Prime,” Goodrum said with a smile of Gardenhire’s present. “You know, two-day shipping. Nah, I’m ready. I’m excited to be back playing.”
He’s also trying to shave a few pounds. He weighs 220, but wants to play closer to 215.
“The actual weight wasn’t the problem as far as mobility,” he said. “You can get heavier every year, but muscle weighs more than fat. But actually getting everything moving right and your body learning how to move properly is just stuff I’m working on.”
Just one problem. He’s got to watch out for that mac and cheese. He loves soul food and it his favorite dish. He had plenty of it when Tim and Connie Goodrum came to Florida to help their son celebrate his birthday. And Goodrum indulged.
“I did, I definitely did,” he said. “That was big for me. But like I said, that 215’s not going to come if I do all that.”
Yes, Goodrum knows what he needs to do. And what he doesn’t need to eat.
Contact Carlos Monarrez at email@example.com or @cmonarrez.