Holliday's Yankees roots run deep

Grandfather's career with club interrupted by World War II

Holliday's Yankees roots run deep

TAMPA, Fla. -- When Matt Holliday puts on the Yankees pinstripes for the first time in a big league game this year, it will mark the realization of a family dream, one that might have taken place decades ago if not for an even more important development.

Holliday's grandfather Don was once signed by the Yankees, but any pro career he might have had was interrupted by World War II. Though he never played in a game, Holliday said that his grandfather remained a fan for life and can still picture him tracking each pitch from the family's Oklahoma home.

"I was pretty young when he passed away; I don't have a ton of details on his full experience, but he was a huge Yankees fan," Holliday said. "I do remember him listening to Yankees games in the kitchen next to his little radio. He was a pretty devout Yankees follower."

Holliday's decision to sign with the Yankees prompted celebration in his baseball-rich family. His father, Tom, is in the Oklahoma State Baseball Hall of Fame, while his brother Josh is the current head coach at OSU. An uncle, Dave, is a big league scout for the Braves.

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"Everyone was excited," Holliday said. "I think my dad probably had a special sense of excitement. I think growing up in a baseball family, the cachet of being a New York Yankee is pretty special."

The Yankees are counting on the 37-year-old to provide muscle in the heart of their lineup. Holliday batted .246 with 20 home runs and 62 RBIs in 110 games for the Cardinals in 2016, a season in which he missed 44 team games after sustaining a fractured right thumb on a hit-by-pitch.

"He's a proven middle of the order type of bat from the right side, which I think is something we need," said third baseman Chase Headley. "More than that, it's just the professionalism that he brings, the quality at-bats, knowing how to deal with the ups and downs and the grind. Just a tremendous guy, and obviously he's been a really good player for a long time."

While the seven-time All-Star does have a pair of gloves in his locker at George M. Steinbrenner Field, the Yankees are looking at him "mostly" as a designated hitter, according to manager Joe Girardi.

"You can keep him in the lineup more. He's a big bat with power," Girardi said. "I think this guy is a real professional player that strives for greatness every year. He's been a solid player for a long time."

Holliday has been taking ground balls at first base and believes he will also see some outfield time this spring, though he is looking forward to the potential health benefits of regular duty as the DH.

"I've never done it more than a couple-day period, but I assume that physically I'll feel fresher," said Holliday, who hit .368 (14-for-38) with four doubles, five RBIs and 12 RBIs while DHing for St. Louis in Interleague Play last year. "I have a pretty good idea of the routine that I want to keep. It worked pretty well."

For now, Holliday is thrilled to be taking in the full Yankees experience. His clubhouse locker offers a view that his grandfather surely would have appreciated.

"It's pretty neat when you're sitting here and you see Goose Gossage, Ron Guidry, Reggie Jackson, Willie Randolph and these guys coming through," Holliday said. "As a baseball fan since I was a kid, it's pretty cool."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.