-- SYDNEY -- The brawny guy in the black logo shirt and dark sunglasses got a little ahead of his tour group at the Taronga Zoo the other day. He was the first to reach the Tasmanian devil cage, where the frantic little predator was pacing back and forth and glaring through the glass.
Just then, a zoo employee who was ushering this group of visitors around the exhibits entered the area. The zoo, one of Sydney's main tourist draws, has sweeping views across the harbor from the Sydney Opera House.
"Thanks for showing us around," Paul Goldschmidt said. "I know there are, like, 90 people saying different things and it can be kind of overwhelming, but we appreciate your help."
A minute or two later, Goldschmidt was holding the door for about a dozen people to exit. Later, a reporter interviewing him fumbled his fedora and Goldschmidt bent over and picked it up.
You really don't see these kinds of social graces often from a major league baseball player, truth be told, particularly not when he is, quite possibly, on the cusp of becoming the most dominant hitter in the league. The Arizona Diamondbacks know what they have in Goldschmidt: superstar talent with a humble demeanor. And they are not shy about thrusting him out there as the young face of their franchise.
The players on the other team here in Australia, the Los Angeles Dodgers, have made it abundantly clear they are here only to play baseball. Goldschmidt is actually making his second tour of Australia. He was here back in November and he obliged the locals by strapping on the pads and playing a bit of cricket.
On a tour of the zoo with several members of the Diamondbacks front office and a small contingent of media people on a recent breezy, sunny day, Goldschmidt obliged everyone. He posed for pictures sitting next to a wallaby. He cut a promotional video with team president Derrick Hall standing in front of the giraffes, after much hemming and hawing about how and where to shoot it. He did a TV interview. He chatted with a few print reporters.
For what the Diamondbacks are trying to do and be, Goldschmidt is the perfect player. For what he's trying to do and be, the Diamondbacks are the perfect vessel.
"He's a very unassuming guy, even though he's a star player. In our city and the community we feel we're a part of, that fits," Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick said. "At the end of the day, it's about the team and not about the individual, and he embraces that fully. There are great players who maybe are a little different style than Paul and that's great, but I think for our city, he's the ideal star."
Just before Opening Day 2013, the Diamondbacks and Goldschmidt agreed on a five-year, $32 million contract extension, a fairly reasonable contract for a guy coming off a season in which he led the league in home runs and RBIs, finished second in MVP balloting and had a .952 OPS. But from another perspective, it was a fairly lavish deal for a player who had just completed his second full season. Kendrick and Hall like to talk about the Diamondbacks as an extended family, and Goldschmidt seems to be this family's mature, older son, the guy who somehow persuades his younger siblings to clean their rooms.
Mark Trumbo just joined this Arizona family. His old team, the Los Angeles Angels, traded him to acquire pitching in a three-team trade. Now, he is the swinger of a big bat who is supposed to persuade pitchers not to walk Goldschmidt, either intentionally or semi-intentionally. Trumbo had known of Goldschmidt's prowess since his minor league days, when the two players were competing for a minor league home run title. He learned about his personality after he arrived in the desert.
"He's very, very disciplined. Very focused," Trumbo said. "He holds himself accountable. He doesn't let anything slide and some people may interpret it as being kind of hard on himself. That's just my perspective, but I think that makes him as great as he is. He doesn't let anything fester. If it's a bad rep, he understands probably what went wrong and the next one's better. He's just always improving."
Trumbo has seen different examples of clubhouse leadership. He played with the Angels when Torii Hunter ran the clubhouse with a fiery, vocal style. He was also there when Hunter left and there was, by some accounts, a void in leadership.
"Goldy's not the loud personality, but he always has very pertinent points," Trumbo said. "He's very thoughtful in his responses. I know he's only 26, but it surprises people when they hear him talk. He's wise beyond his years in the game."
When you hear people talking about Goldschmidt, it's impossible not to think of the team the Diamondbacks are trying to beat in Australia and all points beyond: the Dodgers. People tend to think of the Dodgers as brash and loud, the stuck-up rich kid. In Australian media, it certainly has been portrayed that way, with nearly every newspaper story mentioning the Dodgers' $240 million payroll and the Diamondbacks' $104 million payroll.
The Dodgers are viewed as flashy, the Diamondbacks as scrappy. If Goldschmidt is the face of what the Diamondbacks are trying to do, Yasiel Puig is the face of what the Dodgers are trying to do.
"Guys can play the game the way they want. Things aren't set in stone," Goldschmidt said. "There's no right or wrong way to do it."
If the Diamondbacks had eight more Goldschmidts, they certainly wouldn't have finished 11 games behind the Dodgers last season, coughing up the division lead on July 22 and never catching up. Goldschmidt is a career .344 hitter against L.A. pitching. He has pummeled nine home runs in 42 starts versus the Dodgers.
"He's kind of gotten to be a beast and hard to deal with, honestly, because he's tough to pitch to," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "He's killed us, so we just look at him as getting to be a tougher and tougher out."
Mattingly doesn't know Goldschmidt well, but he does know hitting, and he said he can tell that Goldschmidt studies because he adjusts as the pitching plan changes. He's hard to pitch inside and he can drive the ball with authority to right field.
Goldschmidt said he never looks at video of his swing. He spends all his time in the video room watching the opposing pitcher. He doesn't sound like a guy who's going to coast off last year's accomplishments.
"First off, I wouldn't say I'm fully established. I had a good year last year, but in this game it's what have you done for me lately and it's about what you do over the long haul, not just one year," Goldschmidt said. "Last year was good, but you have to prove yourself every day. That's how I feel. There are guys who have been doing it 10 years, more than that -- that's what I call established. Not, 'He's done it for a year.' "
If Goldschmidt stays healthy and keeps producing similar numbers, he soon won't be the great player few people talk about. He's one of the favorites to win the MVP trophy, particularly if the Diamondbacks compete. As the accomplishments pile up and the media attention grows, you wonder if he can keep the level head that seems to be his defining trait these days.
"I think he can handle it," Kendrick said. "I think he just has an inner strength about him -- leave aside his talent, which is obvious -- that shines through in everything I've seen that he does. If he has the national attention, I think he'll handle it well."
As of yet, the game hasn't thrown anything at Goldschmidt he couldn't handle with grace.