From Junction to The `Que, With Visions of Coors Field, Holliday on the Move

The Rookie-level Grand Junction Rockies began a series Thursday night at Idaho Falls after making the eight-hour overnight trip to that Idaho city. Matt Holliday wasn't on that long bus ride.

Instead, he traveled to Albuquerque to begin what he hopes is the final stop with the Colorado Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate before returning to the majors.

Holliday, 38, arrived in Grand Junction on Sunday and spent four days there with the young players, traveling back in time to 1998 when he made his professional debut in the Arizona Rookie League where the Rockies had a team in Tucson.

Grand Junction manager Jake Opitz said it was “pretty cool to watch” his players interact with Holliday, a seven-time All-Star whose big-league resume includes 314 home runs, 2,081 hits, a National League batting and RBI title and four Silver Slugger awards.

“They would just take their turn,” Opitz said of his players. “It was basically waiting in line to go talk to him in the dugout, talk to him during batting practice. They were just chomping at the bits to talk to him.”

Holliday could be a right-handed power bat off the Rockies’ bench, an offensive boost to their September stretch drive, if all goes well. Or he could be on his way out of the game for good if his performance at Albuquerque falls short in the Rockies’ eyes. Either way, it’s a no-risk move for them.

A fitness fanatic, Holliday, not surprisingly, arrived at Grand Junction in very good shape. He had worked out at Oklahoma State, where his brother Josh, is the head coach, in his hometown of Stillwater, Okla. Hitting there was undoubtedly helpful. Now it’s a matter of seeing whether Holliday can hone his hitting skills in professional baseball and get them back to major-league standards.

“He’s in phenomenal shape,” Opitz said. “You could see in the week how just his timing to his swing would get better and better each day. He took four at-bats last night, and I couldn’t get him out of the lineup.”

Indeed, on Wednesday night during a 17-5 loss to Ogden, Holliday made his one Grand Junction appearance, and went 1-for-3 with one RBI. He batted third and was the Grand Junction DH. With one out and a runner on third in the first, Holliday hit a run-scoring grounder to shortstop. He grounded out to second in the third inning, walked in the fifth and led off the eighth with a double and was lifted for a pinch-runner. When Holliday came to bat in the eighth, Ogden, after a nine-run explosion in the seventh, was leading 17-1.

“I kept saying, ‘Are you good?’ Opitz said. “He said, ‘No, I want another one.’ You could see each at-bat and almost every pitch, how he started recognizing (pitches) better,  his timing started getting better. In those four at-bats, you could just tell how good this guy is, how he could adjust pitch-by-pitch, which big-league guys do.

“Hopefully (he can) get up there and have a big impact. I know he will in clubhouse, I’m sure.”