DENVER -- Matthew Holliday poked his head around the clubhouse door and peeked into the locker room, a broad smile on his face as he sized up the moment, wondering if the timing was right for the newest -- and oldest -- Rockies callup to make his appearance. For the
DENVER -- Matthew Holliday poked his head around the clubhouse door and peeked into the locker room, a broad smile on his face as he sized up the moment, wondering if the timing was right for the newest -- and oldest -- Rockies callup to make his appearance. For the teammates who embraced him when he entered the room -- and the fans who have eagerly waited to welcome him back home to Coors Field -- the timing couldn't be better.
"It was pretty surreal," Holliday said of his first day coming back to Coors Field, a baseball lifetime after his big league debut with Colorado in 2004 at the age of 24. "Honestly, it felt sort of normal, but at the same time pretty nostalgic, thinking back 15 years ago when I did that for the first time. I was kind of that kid at Christmas last night. I had a hard time sleeping. I was really excited to walk into Coors Field again as a member of the Rockies."
There was only one problem: After 10 years away wearing A's green, Cardinals red and Yankees blue, Holliday didn't have the proper footwear for a Rockie.
"Apparently, not many guys around here wear 14s," Holliday said, referring to his shoe size. "They found some of my old shoes from '07, so I wore some shoes that hadn't been worn in a few years. Hoping to pick some of that '07 mojo off of my shoes."
With a new shoe order scheduled to arrive on Friday, the team had to scramble to find some size 14s for Thursday's game. Rockies vice president of community and retail operations Jim Kellogg went to the archives and pulled a pair of cleats from one of Holliday's 2007 uniforms, so he wore the old pair in his first game back.
Holliday received a standing ovation before his first at-bat in the second inning, and he went on to record a groundout and a pair of flyouts before being removed in the seventh inning for defensive purposes during Thursday's 4-3 walk-off win against the Padres. His fifth-inning fly to left gave Holliday hope that it might leave the park.
"Then I remembered there was a tornado blowing in from left field," Holliday said. "Most of the time, that ball goes out of the park. I've hit a few homers here, and I know what it feels like. I thought I had one, and then I looked up and saw the parachute pop."
• Looking back at Holliday's best moments in Colorado
Before taking the field Thursday, Holliday picked from three hats hanging in his locker, charting his path over the past three and a half weeks since signing a Minor League contract with the Rockies. His hand hovered over the Rookie-level Grand Junction Rockies cap and the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes cap, before donning the Rockies' Major League cap, officially signifying his return to the big leagues after nearly five months on the sidelines.
"I kind of came into this with no expectations," Holliday said of the uncertainty he had about his journey through the Minors and his ultimate homecoming. "I just wanted to take it day to day and be where I was and just enjoy just being with the guys in Grand Junction, and then being with the guys in Albuquerque and really stay focused on enjoying myself and being with my kids and being around those players and just enjoying baseball. That was my intent coming into this, and ultimately, if I was supposed to be back here, then I would. I'm grateful to be back."
Holliday left the Rockies after the 2008 season -- in a trade with Oakland that brought Carlos Gonzalez to Colorado. He logged five big years in purple pinstripes to launch his career. He was a three-time All-Star during his tenure, the Most Valuable Player of the 2007 National League Championship Series, and the runner-up for the NL MVP Award that season.
Holliday's game-winning slide across home plate on a Jamey Carroll sacrifice fly in the 13th inning of the tiebreaking Game No. 163 against the Padres in 2007 stands as one of the most dramatic moments in Rockies history -- from one of the greatest Major League games ever played. Rockies manager Bud Black was in the opposite dugout for that game and is still haunted by the memories of being eliminated from the postseason by Holliday's phantom slide.
"I get a lot of blame for that with the San Diego fans," Holliday said of the controversial run that has been questioned ever since. "[Umpire] Tim McClelland is the one that some of this angst should be aimed at. I didn't call myself safe. Tell Buddy, 'Take it out on Tim.'"
For his part, Black is eager to have Holliday in his dugout, and he wasted no time writing his name in the lineup card -- starting him in left field and batting fifth after watching him hit .346 with three homers and 14 RBIs with the Isotopes.
"He's been playing regularly in Triple-A," Black noted. "He's had over 50 at-bats. Physically, he feels great. Mentally, he's ready. Today, he'll pop in there against a left-handed starter [Joey Lucchesi] to get some at-bats. Each and every night, if he's not starting, he'll be available to pinch-hit. There's a dangerous bat there late in the game with power that's a presence against a bullpen. When Matt steps in the batter's box, there's immediate fear that something's going to be hit hard. That's always a good thing."
Holliday's presence in the dugout could be described as Jason Giambi-esque, a powerful weapon capable of inflicting damage with a glove that can still play in the field every day, despite the crowded corps in Colorado's outfield that includes Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, Gerardo Parra, David Dahl and first baseman Ian Desmond.
Desmond was responsible for Thursday's win, hitting a two-out, two-run, walk-off home run for his 20th homer of the season.
Holliday's impact was already felt in the Coors Field clubhouse, where a team one game out of first place welcomes his veteran bat. Though he spent eight seasons in St. Louis, slashing .293/.380/.494, his five breakout years in Colorado arguably captured him at his best, slashing .319/.386/.552.
"We got better today," Nolan Arenado said. "He's going to help us win ballgames. He's still a good player. He knows how to hit. He didn't lose that. He hit  homers last year [with the Yankees], and he didn't play very much. Still got power, he can still play."
Arenado and Holliday developed a friendship when Troy Tulowitzki introduced them over dinner in Arenado's rookie season, and the two have stayed in touch ever since, with Nolan picking the brain of a player he admired as one of his favorites while growing up and developing his own approach at the plate.
"I mimic his finish," Arenado said of his approach at the plate. "That's how I've always finished. I've tried. I'm happy he's here."
Chris Iannetta joked that he was glad to no longer be the "old man" of the Rockies at age 34, and Holliday's smile only got bigger.
"I appreciate that -- I'll take it as a compliment," Holliday said. "Fifteen years later, I'm still good enough that people want me here. The one thing I do have is experience. I've seen thousands of pitches and faced tons of pitching over my career."
There are no shortage of reasons the Rockies want Holliday back in their clubhouse, and they're ready to unleash those reasons on the rest of the West.
"Matt has been through pennant races," Black said. "Matt has been on winning teams. Matt has great leadership ability, has a great way with teammates. That's going to help."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com based in Denver.