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Matt Holliday's Major League Return Gains Steam in Grand Junction

GRAND JUNCTION, CO. (KREX) -- With each swing of the bat inside the practice cage on Suplizio Field, Matt Holliday corrected himself. 

A flat grounder elicited a dissatisfied grunt. Fly balls meant a quick peek at the hands, before re-gripping the lumber. 

And home runs? A brief moment of admiration, before narrowing the eyebrows again. 

The seven-time all-star, nearly a year removed from his last major league at bat, was anything but relaxed during his return to batting practice. On Grand Junction's small stage Sunday, he had a ten-minute opportunity to prove to everyone watching, from the Rockies front office members to the starstruck players, that the former Rockies legend still has "it."

"It's a bit surreal to be back wearing Rockies gear," Holliday said, looking down and grasping at his new purple and black t-shirt. "I was eager to get the opportunity to come back for the Rockies, an organization that I'm very fond of and I've had a lot of great memories with...Hopefully I'll get a chance to be a part of it again." 

Nearly a decade ago, Holliday was the face of the franchise. The 2007 NL MVP runner up, Holliday was the outfielder with raw power in the bat, a slugger who paved the way for the Colorado Rockies only World Series appearance in their history. 

After stints that ended in a championship with the St. Louis Cardinals, and a forgettable 2017 season with the New York Yankees, Holliday did not resign with a team in the offseason. Many regarded the 38-year old retired, a star sizzled out after a .231 batting average in the Bronx. 

That is, until he received a phone call from Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich. 

"[Some friends in the organization] had been telling Jeff that I still had interest in playing," Holliday said. "He reached out to me about a week ago, and said 'hey are you interested?' And I said "yeah, let's do it.'"

By the end of the week, Holliday had worked out in front of the Rockies scouts, and hopped on a plane to sign back up with his former team. 

"At this point in my career, it goes pretty fast. There's not a whole lot of negotiations. There's an opportunity, and I'm excited for it."

20 years prior, Holliday signed a similar contract. The young, hard-slugging lefty was selected in the seventh round of the 1998 MLB Draft, excelling at Oklahoma's Stillwater High School. A duel-sport athlete, Holliday received scholarships in both football and baseball. He picked the bat, headed to to Tucson, Arizona for a six-year minor league stint, and waited for an opportunity. 

Holliday gained stardom in 2007 during the Rockies magical run to the World Series, winning his first batting title and maintaining a .340 batting average. Perhaps his most famous play, a go-ahead slide into home plate in game 163 against the San Diego Padres that clinched the Rockies playoff bid, still gets brought up from time to time. People still want the answer to the question: did he touch the plate?

Holliday, laser focused on his mission in Grand Junction, wasn't interested in discussing controversies in the past. 

"It doesn't matter!. It's one of those things, it's time to move on. It's been many, many years."

Grand Junction's head coach Jake Opitz still isn't sure if Holliday will make an appearance in the lineup during his stint at Suplizio. Holliday said Bridich left the decision whether to suit up for a game or two in Junction up to him. He is expected to stay with the team until the last game of the home stand on Wednesday, when he'll likely head to the Albuquerque Isotopes, the Rockies Triple-A affiliate. 

But that doesn't mean Holliday's presence hasn't already affected the guys in the dugout. 

"He's great for these kids," Opitz said. "He's actually got a locker next to [Rockies 2018 2nd round pick] Grant Lavigne. Matt joked around that his kid was on varsity this year, and so was Grant."

"It's great for these guys to be around with a guy of that pedigree."

Sunday, the players attitude at batting practice was altered. Guys were a little quieter, Suplizio Field staff slightly more attentive.

And in the middle of the swarm of cameras, on a Rookie-League field 250 miles from the nearest major city, a potential future hall-of-famer swung the bat in purple and black again. 

"I'm knocking the dust off, and we'll see what happens," Holliday said. 

 

 


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