Troy Tulowitzki finally feels like himself when he puts on a Toronto Blue Jays jersey. All it took was a playoff run and some off-season bonding with his teammates.
The all-star shortstop, who came to Toronto in a trade deadline deal with the Colorado Rockies last July, is participating in his first spring training with the team.
While it took Tulowitzki time to adjust to life outside Colorado – he spent his entire career with the Rockies before the trade – there's no doubt in his mind that he belongs with the defending American League East champion Blue Jays now.
"You can't go to the playoffs with a team and not feel like you're a part of it, but for it to actually all sink in and digest, and for me to really be OK with it, that wasn't until this off-season," Tulowitzki said at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium on Sunday morning.
"When I see the Blue Jays logo I'm not like 'what is that?' anymore. I know that this is where I belong and I'm looking forward to this year."
Tulowitzki and seven of his teammates, including second baseman Ryan Goins, third baseman Josh Donaldson and right-hander Marcus Stroman, met up in Las Vegas in December to watch UFC 194 headlined by Conor McGregor and Jose Aldo.
The fight itself didn't last long – McGregor knocked Aldo out 13 seconds into the first round – but the experience went a long way in cementing Tulowitzki's bond with the others.
"I felt like we became closer this off-season, and that made the transition a lot easier," Tulowitzki said.
Goins felt the same way.
"Planning a trip like that in the off-season, that's something that I don't think a lot of teams do, honestly," the second baseman said. "But it was fun to bond with the guys. We said 'hey, why not meet in the middle of the off-season?' because we love being around each other.
"You start to miss your teammates, honestly. I can feel like everyone in here missed each other. We get back and it's like we never missed a beat."
Tulowitzki had a lot to adjust to when he first came over to the Blue Jays – new teammates, new country, new league, new playing surface – and a new spot in the batting order.
Manager John Gibbons had Tulowitzki batting leadoff for 26 games, where he hit .227 with a .325 on-base percentage before getting bumped back down to his more traditional No. 5 spot in August.
Gibbons said earlier this week he'd rather not use Tulowitzki in the lead-off spot again this year. Tulowitzki said he doesn't mind one way or the other.
"Hey, he's the manager, whatever the lineup is, I'm good with that."
One thing Tulowitzki never worried much about was his new middle-infield partner.
Goins, who appeared in 128 games for Toronto last year in his first full season in the big leagues, figures to be a lock for the team at second base this season, at least until Devon Travis comes back from shoulder surgery.
While Goins doesn't have much experience at the major league level, Tulowitzki said the 28-year-old's strong defensive skills helped put him at ease from Day 1.
"In my career I've changed a lot of second basemen," Tulowitzki said. "I've had almost a different second baseman every year and all of them have been pretty good defensively. But with (Goins), I was really impressed with how great he was."
Goins says being able to play alongside the veteran Tulowitzki has helped him, too.
"You watch a guy while you're growing up and you try to take parts of their game and make it your own, and then all of a sudden you're playing with that guy," Goins said. "He's the best in the game, I would say. There aren't many guys better than him playing on that level like where he's at.
"It's special to go out there and compete with a guy like that."