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12:26 AM UTC

JUPITER, Fla. — Nolan Arenado‘s infatuation with Paul Goldschmidt‘s talent as a baseball player dates to 2009 when they were rookies in different organizations in the Pioneer League, and it percolated many times through the years when they faced off as NL West rivals.

However, it wasn’t until 2017, when they were teammates for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic that Arenado’s fascination with Goldschmidt morphed into a different kind of admiration. Every morning, they talked hitting between breakfast bites and analyzed each other’s swings with the bat Arenado kept close by at night. That talk reaffirmed what Arenado thought about Goldschmidt from the first time he saw him slug 18 homers in rookie ball years earlier.

Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt play together for Team USA in the MLB All-Star Futures game in 2011

“Smartest baseball player I’ve ever played with,” Arenado said. “Not just on the field, but off it, too.”

Cardinals teammates the past two seasons, Goldschmidt and Arenado are inseparable except when they are opposite each other at first and third base. Not only do they hit back to back in the order, but they’re also usually in the same hitting groups. As another set of eyes, they watch each other hit and offer instant, honest feedback.

“He makes me so much better,” said Goldschmidt, who sits next to Arenado on the team plane and has the locker next to his in Spring Training. “We think about baseball and hitting in similar ways. It’s helpful to have someone to talk with that thinks about it the same way, and I have that with Nolan.”

Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado face off as opponents for the D-backs and Rockies, respectively, in 2018

There are vast differences, of course, between Goldschmidt, 35, and Arenado, 31. While Goldschmidt is predominantly staid, Arenado burns hot and shows his emotions often. Ultimately, it gets them to a similar place. Last season, they were the only teammates with at least 7.0 fWAR each (Arenado had 7.3 and Goldschmidt had 7.1). Their 149 combined extra-base hits were second most by a duo behind Atlanta’s Austin Riley and Matt Olson. Their 218 combined RBIs were second most by a duo to Pete Alonso and Francisco Lindor’s 238. Additionally, they were the first teammates with 30-plus home runs, 40-plus doubles and 100-plus RBIs since 2019 (Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers) and the first National League teammates to do that since 2008, when the Cards duo of Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick accomplished the feat.

“It’s unique, but it’s not unique to the best,” Cards president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said of the way the team’s two stars push one another. “When you’re a younger player in this camp and you’re getting to witness someone who won the MVP and someone who finished third, and they’re the hardest workers, most intentional and most driven, dang that’s a good thing to follow.”

One thing Arenado had a difficult time following was when Goldschmidt called him last offseason and said he wanted to have advance testing done on his bats and swing to try to gain another edge. That was shocking to Arenado considering Goldschmidt had finished second in the NL MVP race in 2013 and ’15, third in ’17 and sixth in ’18 and ’21. Goldschmidt hit .330 with an OPS of 1.020 over the second half of that 2021 season, and he was still scratching and clawing for ways to improve. After he picked his jaw up off the floor, Arenado agreed to accompany his best friend for the swings analysis.

“I was afraid for him to change anything,” Arenado said. “I was like, ‘Dude, I don’t think you should be changing anything. If anyone should be changing something, it’s me.’ It shows he knows there’s another level you can get to, and he’s always pushing.”

That next level was Goldschmidt’s first MVP award. Not surprisingly, Arenado wasn’t far behind, finishing two spots back in the voting. Arenado playfully ribbed his teammate that he might have been the MVP had Goldschmidt not “stolen” RBIs with his off-the-charts production.

The first full team workouts of Spring Training came Monday, but Arenado and Goldschmidt have already been in Jupiter working out side by side and talking hitting for weeks. The search for more is one they undertake together as the motor that drives the Cardinals’ offense.

“The thing I appreciate most about Goldy is he’s always pushing to get better, and if he’s doing that, with all his accomplishments, there’s no reason I shouldn’t,” Arenado analyzed. “He pushes me to be a better player, and I’ve become better because I’ve been around him these last couple of years.”