DENVER (AP) — The 38-year-old All-Star outfielder sauntered into the Colorado clubhouse at Coors Field and instantly felt like a rookie again.
Matt Holliday was back at home.
The Rockies selected the contract of Holliday from Triple-A Albuquerque on Thursday after he signed a minor league deal last month.
A seventh-round pick in 1998 by Colorado, Holliday played the first five seasons of his 14-year career with the Rockies, hitting .290 as a rookie in 2004 and helping lead Colorado to its only World Series appearance in 2007.
He’s hoping to reprise a similar role this season with a Rockies team in the thick of the playoff chase.
“Honestly, it felt sort of normal (being back), but at the same time pretty nostalgic a little bit — just thinking back 15 years ago, when I did that for the first time,” said Holliday, who was in left field and batting fifth against San Diego on Thursday. “It was kind of that kid at Christmas (feeling) last night. Had a hard time sleeping.”
Teammate Chris Iannetta made him feel his age, reminding Holliday he was now the oldest player on the roster. He took that honor from the 35-year-old Iannetta, who was Holliday’s teammate in 2007.
“I appreciate that. I’ll take it as a compliment,” said Holliday, who won a World Series title with St. Louis in 2011. The Cardinals arrive in town this weekend. “Fifteen years later, I’m still good enough that people want me here. I hope I can go out and contribute.”
Holliday hasn’t played in the majors since last season with the New York Yankees, when he batted .231 with 19 homers.
No matter to Nolan Arenado.
“We got better today,” the Gold Glove third baseman said. “He’s still a good player. He still knows how to hit. He didn’t lose that.
“He’s always a fundamental player, a fundamental hitter. You don’t lose that.”
Trailing Holliday on Thursday were his two of his sons, 14-year-old Jackson and 11-year-old Ethan. They played pingpong in a back room while Holliday prepared for the game. The last time Holliday was in a Rockies uniform — the Rockies traded him to Oakland after the 2008 season — a young Jackson would frequently take batting practice in the middle of the clubhouse.
“You all better watch out if I pitch to him in the locker room. You all might get hurt,” Holliday cracked. “He’s a really good player. You all better pay attention after the game.”
It didn’t take Holliday long to get into the swing of things again. He batted .346 with three home runs and 14 RBIs for the Triple-A Isotopes.
But he went into this adventure with muted expectations.
“I didn’t know what to expect, how I would feel,” Holliday said. “The one thing I do have is experience. I’ve seen thousands of pitches and faced tons of pitching over my career.”
As for his role, manager Bud Black said he will “see how it goes.”
“If he’s not starting, he’ll be available to pinch-hit,” Black said. “There’s a dangerous bat there late in the game with some power.”
The one lingering question was this: Did Holliday actually touch home plate in Game No. 163 in 2007? Holliday tagged from third in the 13th inning against San Diego and dove in headfirst for the winning run, a victory in the NL wild-card tiebreaker that vaulted Colorado into the postseason. Whether Holliday touched home remains a contention with Black, who was the Padres’ manager then.
Holliday joked that home plate umpire Tim McClelland shared some responsibility.
“I didn’t call myself safe,” Holliday said. “It wasn’t my fault. I tell Buddy, ‘Take it out on Tim.’”
Black doesn’t buy it.
“He should be blamed. He missed home. You know what that is? That’s baseball,” Black light-heartedly said. “That one hurt. I still think about it.”
Now, they’re united.
And this version of the Rockies has impressed Holliday from afar.
“In some ways it’s similar to 2007,” Holliday said. “It’s a lot of young guys and guys who came up together, sort of coming together at the right time. A good mix of veteran leadership and young players that are bringing a lot of energy and really trying to prove themselves and establish themselves as great major league players.
“It’s a really talented team and a team that has a chance to do something special.”