Ty Harrington was the head baseball coach at Texas State University that morning in 2008 when he pulled his vehicle off Charles Austin Drive near the team’s practice facility in San Marcos and marveled at the sight of his best player, Paul Goldschmidt, alone in a batting cage.

Harrington watched as the first baseman placed baseball after baseball on a tee and practiced his swing, stopping occasionally to make sure his hands and feet were in the proper place before ripping into another ball. What made the session extraordinary was that the Bobcats had stepped off their team bus at around one that morning, after a nine-hour return trip from Louisiana. The coach had been up early for a meeting with Texas State administrators and was headed home to catch a nap before returning to practice.

But Goldschmidt had slept only a couple of hours, attended his 8 and 9 a.m. classes, and was already back to working on his swing. Harrington said he has never known a player who loves “the process” of baseball more than Goldschmidt. He never knew someone more committed to being great and to paying whatever price had to be paid to become it. “He doesn’t just like it, he loves it,” said Harrington, who retired in 2019 after twenty seasons at Texas State. “And it’s not just the games. He loves the grind, the thinking things through.

“I’ve had a lot of great players, a lot of big leaguers, but he was probably the most efficient and organized and diligent worker that I’ve ever been around,” Harrington went on. “That’s probably the story of his entire career. I watched him and thought, `This guy is going to play in the big leagues.’”

Thirteen years later, Goldschmidt is the star first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the best players on one of the best teams in Major League Baseball. He’s a six-time All-Star and leads the National League this season with 307 total bases. He batted .391 and scored 24 runs this month during the Cardinals’ seventeen-game winning streak, the longest in the National League since 1937.

While Goldschmidt, 34, has made his name in MLB during eight seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the last three with the Cardinals, he learned the game—how to play it and how to respect it—in Texas.

He met his wife Amy at Texas State and was part of a state champion squad at the Woodlands High School. He participated in an assortment of youth programs before signing on to play three seasons for Harrington. He was a star at every level, although MLB teams weren’t always sold on his potential. But that’s not what some of the people who know him best discuss when they’re asked about him. They begin with stories of work ethic and decency.

“I tell people that we want good young men first and good baseball players second,” said Mike Rutledge, who runs Houston Kyle Chapman Baseball, a by-invitation-only program designed to land college scholarships for baseball players. “And I tell them Paul Goldschmidt is our gold standard.”

Goldschmidt was sixteen when Rutledge first laid eyes on him. By the time Goldschmidt left the program, Rutledge had developed an admiration not just for Goldschmidt but for the player’s entire family—parents, brothers, and all. Once, when a new player—Zach McAllister, who pitched eight seasons in the major leagues—joined the Kyle Chapman team, Rutledge assigned him to be Goldschmidt’s roommate on a road trip. “This kid was from Illinois and didn’t know anyone,” he said. “But I knew Paul would make sure he felt at home. Two days later, it was like he’d been with us the whole time. Paul brought him into the circle. He’s just that kind of guy.”

But during his high school years, the idea that Paul Goldschmidt would become a great pro was very much in doubt. The Dodgers selected him in the forty-ninth round of the MLB draft after his senior season at the Woodlands, but the franchise never even bothered to offer him a contract. “Nothing against Paul, I think it was a favor,” said Goldschmidt’s father, David. “Not knowing if he’d get drafted again, it was something you can tell your kids. ‘Hey, when I was eighteen I got drafted.’”

paul goldschmidt mlb player from texas
Goldschmidt, left, is congratulated by a teammate after his monster home run in the 2006 Texas class 5A state championship game. Harry Cabluck/AP

At the Woodlands, folks still talk about the gargantuan home run Goldschmidt hit in his final game, which helped win a 2006 Texas state championship. “Dead center field at Dell Diamond [in Round Rock],” said the Woodlands head coach, Ron Eastman. “There’s a shed out there, and Paul hit it onto the shed. I guarantee he left a mark on that building.”

Eastman also remembers countless mornings when he’d show up early before school to find Goldschmidt and his dad in the batting cage. “We had three senior stars on that 2006 team: Kyle Drabek, Steven Maxwell, and Paul,” Eastman said. “After practice, you’d see them grab buckets and go out into the trees behind our field to gather up the baseballs. When your stars do that, it rubs off on everyone.”

Back then, Goldschmidt wasn’t considered a top prospect because major league scouts questioned his athleticism, bat speed, and all-around physical gifts. Big-time college programs showed little interest in offering him a scholarship, and when Harrington, who trusted Rutledge’s recommendation, recruited him to Texas State, Goldschmidt happily accepted.

Then during the fall of his high school senior season, Goldschmidt began smashing balls out of the park so often that the major college programs came back for a second look. “I’m getting calls asking if I think Paul would reconsider his commitment to Texas State,” Rutledge said. “I told them, ‘Why don’t you call him?’”

Here’s one side of a conversation Rutledge overheard: “You know, coach, I really appreciate your interest in me. But when I was kind of floundering, one guy showed faith in me. He offered me a big enough scholarship that my parents won’t have to worry too much about paying for my education and can save it for my two younger brothers.”

As Goldschmidt’s mother Kim put it: “He would never go back on his word.”

Later, Rutledge recalls, an assistant coach at Texas A&M told him: “You don’t hear seventeen-year-old kids with that kind of maturity.” Rutledge replied, “That’s who Paul Goldschmidt is, okay?”

During Goldschmidt’s junior season at Texas State, he asked Harrington what he needed to do to be re-drafted as an early pick in the majors. Harrington told him he’d heard scouts use the word “stiff” about Goldschmidt. The coach didn’t run down the full list of knocks against his player, who at the time was a lumbering 250 pounds, about 30 pounds heavier than his current playing weight.

Goldschmidt knew he could do something about the “stiff” tag. He summoned Texas State strength coach Jeremy McMillan, now the sports performance coach for Texas A&M’s baseball team. “I told them what I thought it was gonna take,” Harrington said, recalling the conditioning plan he worked out with Goldschmidt and McMillan. “They just attacked it. It was like two little kids. No one was going to outwork those two guys.”

Trip Couch, who is now an assistant coach at the University of Arizona after living most of his adult life in Sugar Land, was the Diamondbacks’ Texas scout at the time. He’d met Goldschmidt years earlier while assisting Rutledge at Kyle Chapman and had become a mentor and friend to the first baseman.

“Early on at a high school game, Trip saw Paul have some bad body language,” David Goldschmidt said. “He pulled him aside and read him the riot act.”

The scout warned the teen-aged slugger that he’d never reach the big leagues with the attitude he was showing on the field. “‘If I see you act like that again, I’m not telling anybody about Paul Goldschmidt,’” Goldschmidts’ father recalled Couch saying. “He was a good mentor for Paul. There’s always somebody watching. It was a really good lesson. From then on, we’ve been personal family friends.”

Couch believed in Goldschmidt as a player because he saw a work ethic that was off the charts. “No one knew him better than we did,” Couch said. “My boss, Tommy Allison, had dinner with Paul and hit it off. You could see what kind of person he is, and that hasn’t changed.”

When the 2009 draft came around, Couch lobbied the Diamondbacks to select Goldschmidt in the second or third round. Instead, Arizona wound up taking him in the eighth, with the 246th overall pick, before sending him to the minor leagues.

When he inked his first deal with the franchise, Goldschmidt wound up negotiating his own $95,000 signing bonus. “He didn’t have an agent, didn’t have a glove deal, bat deal, or anything,” his father said. “I mentioned it to Trip and Mike Rutledge, and they rounded up some bats. I went to a local sporting goods store, and they helped us with a deal for a new first baseman’s mitt.”

Looking back on the humble beginnings of Goldschmidt’s pro career, his parents believe that his being drafted in the eighth round may have shaped everything that followed. With expectations so low, he had to focus on every aspect of his game. As a result, he became an excellent defender and base runner. “I think he used that internally as some motivation,” his father said. “Getting  drafted in the eighth round, he always had to prove himself.”

“Who knows what would have happened if he’d been drafted by another organization?” asked Couch. “Paul has given a lot of credit to two minor league instructors, Alan Zinter and Turner Ward.” When Goldschmidt was called up to the majors in 2011, the Diamondbacks’ hitting coach, Austin native Don Baylor, also played a role in shaping Goldschmidt into the All-Star he’d become. “I think Paul was going to make it regardless, but you never know,” Couch said. “Those guys had a big impact on him.”

Like the other coaches who’ve worked with Goldschmidt at different points in his baseball career, Couch has an affection for the player that goes way beyond the baseball diamond. Couch’s daughter, Kendall, a junior tennis player at the University of South Carolina, sees Goldschmidt “as a big brother,” he said. “Before Paul and Amy had their own kids, they asked my daughter to ride with them in the All-Star Game parade one year,” Couch added. “He’s like family.”

During Goldschmidt’s first two big-league seasons in Arizona, teammates would see him typing furiously on a laptop in clubhouses and on planes as he worked to finish his bachelor’s degree in management, which he received from the University of Phoenix in 2013. (He had carried a 3.87 GPA in finance at Texas State and was ten hours short of earning his degree when he got drafted and left school after his junior season.)

Goldschmidt’s Arizona teammates have often recalled how detail-oriented he was, right down to pouring a cup of coffee and leaving it in his locker when he headed to an indoor batting cage. He knew precisely how long he’d be in the cage, and that the coffee would be at his preferred drinking temperature when he returned. The Diamondbacks hung the label “America’s First Baseman” on him as a tribute to his professionalism, community work, and popularity in the clubhouse.

Goldschmidt hated it. One day in Arizona, he arrived to find an “America’s First Baseman” T-shirt hanging in his locker. Considering that he refuses to watch his own highlights on television or read fawning news coverage about himself, his reaction came as no surprise. And Goldschmidt didn’t just decline to wear the shirt, but he also asked his teammates not to wear it in public. “I’m not going to get mad at guys having fun,” he said at the time. “But I’m sure not going to wear it.”

After the 2018 season, Goldschmidt was traded from the Diamondbacks to the Cardinals. “When I heard about the trade, I thought, `Well, that’s a great match,’” Harrington, Goldschmidt’s college coach, said. “You’ve got this great pro going to a city that absolutely loves baseball. Fans there are passionate, they’re knowledgeable, and they’re going to love this guy.”

That prediction has borne out—especially this season, as Goldschmidt’s recent play has helped St. Louis surge into the playoffs, where the Cardinals appear likely to face the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League wild card game.

All of Goldschmidt’s success hasn’t come as a shock to Harrington, whose days coaching the first baseman at Texas State taught him not to be surprised whenever Goldschmidt did something extraordinary—whether on or off the field. Harrington recalled a conversation he overheard back then between Goldschmidt and his younger brother Robbie.

“We’ve just played McNeese [State] on the road,” Harrington said, “and I see Paul with his arm around Robbie as we’re about to leave. I hear him say, ‘Make sure you’re doing your schoolwork, make sure you taking care of your business, and don’t be a pain in the ass for mom and dad.’ I’m thinking, ‘Holy smokes, man. What doesn’t this cat do?’ He wasn’t being mean to Robbie. He was just saying, ‘Hey, take care your business.’

“I’m telling you,” Harrington went on, “this guy is the most unassuming, most professional person you’ll ever meet. I’m proud of the player he has become, but I’m more proud of the husband and dad he has become. You don’t meet many people like Paul Goldschmidt.”