Will Rockies’ superstar stay in Colorado? | VailDaily.com

Will Rockies’ superstar stay in Colorado?

Tracy Ringolsby
Rocky Mountain News
Vail, CO Colorado

DENVER, Colorado ” Rockies outfielder Matt Holliday battles every day to live a simple life.

It’s a losing battle.

Holliday has attained star status in the athletic world. He tries to deal with it, but it isn’t easy for the Pennsylvania-born, Oklahoma-raised Holliday.

Right now, however, the spotlight is shining brighter than ever on Holliday, and his stock continues to climb. He is making his third consecutive All-Star Game appearance tonight, in the starting lineup for the first time.

He’s batting sixth and playing right field, a position he hasn’t played in the big leagues but is going to play for the third time in the All-Star Game.

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Yet his future has become a growing question.

He is signed with the Rockies through 2009, but free agency looms after that. And as his success increases, so does the amount it might take to sign him.

There have been conversations about a long-term commitment to Holliday by the Rockies, but nothing serious, which has led to speculation about his availability on the trade market.

Will today be his final All-Star Game in a Rockies uniform?

Could it be his final game of any type in a Rockies uniform?

Could he be dealt, instead, in the offseason, or sometime next year?

Or will he eventually put the concerns of fans to rest and sign a long-term deal to stay with the Rockies?

“I wish (the questions) would all go away,” Holliday admitted. “I try to keep my life simple.”

Focusing on present

Teams that have approached the Rockies about Holliday’s availability have said the asking price is steep – a position player and pitcher who would help at the big-league level right now and a top prospect.

Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd and ownership have been adamant that finances are not an issue and that Holliday’s salaries – $9.5 million for 2008 and $13.5 million for 2009 – fit easily into the team’s payroll structure.

Holliday, for his part, continues to deflect questions about his future with the Rockies, who signed him as a seventh- round draft choice in 1998.

At the time, the Rockies gave him the biggest signing bonus ever for a player taken in that round and then, three years later, gave him another $1 million deal to keep him from giving up baseball to play college football.

“The focus is today,” Holliday said Monday. “Nothing is guaranteed for any of us from day to day. It’s always a possibility this could be our last day so we need to appreciate the opportunity to do what we can do today. I appreciate the opportunity to play baseball. I am careful not to feel I am entitled.”

His potential free-agent status after the 2009 season is a hot topic among Rockies fans, who are dealing with the emotions of the moment. The Rockies have indicated they are reluctant to discuss more than $20 million a year and don’t envision more than a five-year guarantee.

Agent Scott Boras, meanwhile, has talked in terms of Holliday being “a marquee player” and mentioned Alex Rodriguez in talking about Holliday’s potential. That comparison has created speculation the expectation in negotiations could be as much as a 10-year deal and that $20 million annually won’t be nearly enough to get an agreement.

“I know the money is ‘silly’ money,” Holliday said. “The tough thing is going to be how to put it all in context. . . . You face tough decisions your whole life. That’s part of the deal. People who work 9-to-5 jobs face tough decisions. It’s not just athletes.”

Confidence grows

One thing that is pretty obvious: Holliday is among the elite in his profession. In players’ balloting for the All-Star team a year ago, he was the No. 1 vote-getter overall, and this year he was put in the NL starting lineup when Alfonso Soriano was scratched because he had the most players’ votes of NL outfielders not voted in by the fans.

“The Lord blessed me with talent and I want to take advantage of the gift,” Holliday said. “I work hard to get better and maximize what I am capable of doing. To have players feel that way about me is special. As a player, you watch your peers, and to have them admire how you play the game is a strong statement.”

This is, after all, the culmination of a long-term dream for Holliday, who had enough potential in football that he was ranked among the top three quarterbacks in the country when he came out of high school.

Three years later, after he had been statistically so-so in the minor leagues, he was approached by the University of Tennessee and Miami about giving up baseball and pursuing football.

“I think they had seen players like (Chris) Weinke give up and go back to college to play football so they were keeping a close eye on guys who might do the same thing, who might feel that baseball wasn’t working out,” he said. “It was nice to have them feel I had ability (in football), but I wanted to see baseball out.

“I thought I had made progress, and to suddenly go a different direction didn’t make sense.”

Nobody is questioning Holliday’s choice now. In the past three years, the potential had turned into reality. A year ago, he led the NL in hitting and RBI, finished fourth in home runs and was runner-up to Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins in NL Most Valuable Player voting.

He has reached the point where “I come to the field every day feeling I have a chance to do well. That allows confidence to grow.”

And it has led to ongoing questions about his long-range plans, which he guards against becoming an ongoing debate.

“I play baseball and I go home and am a husband,” he said. “Whatever I do I have to take my wife and two children into consideration. It’s not just about me.”

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