At the age of 32, Matt Holliday is in a good place. And most important, he knows it. Holliday is playing for the defending World Series-champion St. Louis Cardinals, a team that is a consistent contender. He is living in a city that is a comfortable environment for raising a family.
Not even the offseason loss of Albert Pujols to free agency has affected him. "Maybe five years ago I would have handled it different, but I've learned over time," said Holliday. "I understand things a lot better." Translation: Matt Holliday knows who he is and he is comfortable with it. Holliday is one of the bigger impact players in the game, and he's one of the nice people in the game. And he is happy to have been able to reclaim those virtues. Holliday had an identity crisis four years ago. Signed by and developed in the Colorado Rockies organization, free agency loomed, and the normally open Holliday became withdrawn. The impression was that he felt unappreciated. Holliday was ready to leave the only organization he had ever known. He wasn't overly concerned where he went. Baseball is baseball, after all, so why should it make any difference? It did, as Holliday found out. And it was his good fortune that his exile to Oakland was brief. Traded from the Rockies to the A's after the 2008 season for a package that included Carlos Gonzalez and Huston Street, Holliday was in Oakland for only four months before being sent to St. Louis. And once he landed in St. Louis, Holliday dealt with the reality. He was a key player in the final two months of the 2009 season, helping the Cardinals advance to the postseason, and then hit the free-agent market. Agent Scott Boras began shopping, but Holliday made his feelings well known. He wanted to stay in St. Louis. Boras met the client's request. "Things happen for a reason," said Holliday. "Obviously, Oakland was a four-month period where I learned to appreciate certain things I didn't really appreciate regarding facilities, atmosphere you play in, even the lifestyle for my family. "There's a reason they are trying to move the franchise. It's not a great place to play. ... When I was traded to St. Louis, I went from 10,000 [fans a game] to full houses. St. Louis was a place I could see spending the rest of my career. The atmosphere, the knowledgeable fans." And that's why amid all the speculation over Holliday selling himself to the highest bidder was just that -- speculation. Holliday knew where he wanted to be, and the Cardinals made sure it happened. It's not like he took a financial hit. He is in the third year of a seven-year, $120 million deal. "One thing that is important is to be somewhere that the family is comfortable, where it's not a 45-minute drive to the ballpark," Holliday said. "As a player, you want a chance to win year in and year out. As you get older, you learn to prioritize. You understand why things happen." It's that maturing that has allowed Holliday to regain an appreciation of his days with the Rockies, a franchise that signed him to a healthy bonus as a seventh-round Draft pick in 1998 to lure him away from Oklahoma State, where he had committed to play quarterback, and then, a couple years later, gave him a multiyear deal while he was still in the Minor Leagues because of the efforts of the football coaches at the University of Miami and the University of Tennessee to convince him to give up baseball. "I was not playing that well in the Minor Leagues, and there was that draw of playing in front of 100,000 on a college football Saturday, but my interest always was to pursue baseball," Holliday said. "I don't have any regrets with the way things turned out." There's no hiding the fact it would have been fun if things had turned out different with Pujols, and he had stayed in St. Louis, where for two years and two months, he and Holliday were the focal points of the middle of the Cardinals' lineup. That, however, is where maturity enters the picture, and Holliday has stayed focused on his job, not allowing his thoughts stray to what could have been. With two months remaining in this season, Holliday already has surpassed his production of a year ago. Holliday went into Wednesday hitting .323, 27 points higher than he finished last year, with 21 home runs and 76 RBI, one fewer home run and one more RBI than his total in 2011. His .403 on-base percentage is 15 points higher than a year ago, underscoring the fact he hasn't lost his plate patience in an effort to do too much. "It's easy to think you have to do more, but I know myself now, and what I am capable of doing," Holliday said. "I have to narrow my focus. My job when I go up to the plate is simple. My job is get a good pitch and hit it hard, and to keep my focus on each at-bat, not on other things." "We get in trouble if we get too far ahead of ourselves, if we try and do too much and don't appreciate who we are and what we have." Holliday stumbled down that road once before. But he caught his balance and wound up in St. Louis, where his past experiences gave him an appreciation for what he has.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.