Matt Holliday is an All-Star outfielder for the Colorado Rockies and a strong contender for the National League Most Valuable Player Award. But baseball may not even be Holliday's best sport.
Coming out of high school in Stillwater, Okla., Holliday was one of the highest rated quarterbacks in the country, along with Carson Palmer and Drew Henson. But Holliday chose baseball over football, and the Colorado Rockies were the beneficiaries of that decision.
The team may have also known that signing Holliday wasn't going to be as hard as some other teams thought.
"A lot of teams thought he was going to play football," Josh Holliday, Matt's older brother who is now an assistant baseball coach at Arizona State, told the Arizona Republic. "But Uncle Dave knew he was a lot more willing to sign."
Uncle Dave is Dave Holliday. He is a scout for the Rockies and suggested the team select Matt in the 1998 First-Year Player Draft. That suggestion paid off as Holliday led the National League in average (.340), RBIs (137), doubles (50), total bases (386) and was fourth in home runs (36).
"The batting average, the RBIs, the clutch hits," said Rockies manager Clint Hurdle. "Holliday has grown up and become a prime-time player and somebody that we count on in our lineup every day."
Stephen Drew turning heads in postseason: Stephen Drew hit .500 during the National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs. That performance has shined the spotlight on the Arizona shortstop, who is playing in his first full season with the team.
Drew, however, would be more than happy if he was able to play without the sudden attention.
"I'm an even-keel kind of player," Drew told the Arizona Republic. "(That mentality) has always been there. I've seen it with my older brother (J.D. of the Boston Red Sox), watching the way he played the game. It's kind of the same way with me. Just play hard. That's all you can do. This game's going to have your ups and downs. The main thing is to hold your composure and do what you can do."
Drew, a first round selection of Arizona in the 2004 Draft, hit .238 this season. But he finished the year hitting .371 from Sept. 17 to the end of the regular season and continued his hot hitting in the first round of the playoffs as he helped the Diamondbacks sweep the Cubs by going 7-for-14 with a double, triple and two home runs.
If Drew and the Diamondbacks can get past the Colorado Rockies and into the World Series, there is a chance they can face the Boston Red Sox, pitting Drew against his brother. The prospect of that almost has Drew excited.
"That'd be cool," Drew said, "but we'll see what happens."
For Rockies' Taveras, game all about speed: Sidelined by a thigh strain that kept him out of action since mid-September, Colorado center fielder Willy Taveras was added to the Rockies' 25-man roster for the National League Championship Series.
The addition of Taveras to the team means manager Clint Hurdle will change his lineup a bit, with Taveras hitting leadoff and Kaz Matsui sliding to the No. 2 spot in the batting order. Troy Tulowitzki was dropped to seventh in the lineup. The change in the lineup comes at a time when the Rockies have won 17 of their last 18 games entering the NLCS.
"We're trying not to change the dynamics but trying to put the best team on the field for us to have a chance to win," Hurdle told the Rocky Mountain News. "When Willy has been healthy, he has given us a speed factor that changes our look."
Taveras, who played in 97 games during the regular season, led the team with 33 steals. In Game 1 Thursday night, the speedy center fielder showed his value by reaching on a single in the second inning, stealing second base and coming around the score as the Rockies scored three runs in the inning.
"We told him we needed him 100 percent, not 80 percent, because speed is his game," Hurdle said.
Byrnes to see some familiar faces in NLCS: For a brief moment, Eric Byrnes was a member of the Colorado Rockies. Now he is playing against his former team in the National League Championship Series as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Byrnes spent a whole 17 days with the Rockies, sent to Colorado in a trade with Oakland. He hit .189 with two extra-base hits in 53 at-bats before being shipped to Baltimore. Byrnes was happy to be with the Rockies before being moved to the Orioles in what was an up-and-down 2005 season.
"I was really excited about being there," Byrnes told the Rocky Mountain News. "I looked at all the prospects on that team and felt they were going to be a good team in the real near future. What they're doing now doesn't surprise me."
And what Byrnes is doing now for Arizona is not a surprise to Colorado manager Clint Hurdle.
"(Byrnes) tried so very hard to do things well for us, and nothing seemed to work," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "I didn't think he was finished by any means."
While Hurdle didn't think Byrnes was done, it didn't appear that way in 2005. After being traded by the Athletics to Colorado, only to be traded to Baltimore, Byrnes was released by the Orioles after the season after hitting .192.
"I was at a crossroads in my career," Byrnes said. "I never lost belief in myself. I always knew I could play. I needed a team to believe in me half as much as I believed in myself."
Arizona took a chance on Byrnes and manager Bob Melvin inserted him into the lineup every day. Melvin's faith in Byrnes has paid off as he has had more than 20 home runs and more than 20 stolen bases in each season with Arizona. The Diamondbacks signed Byrnes to a three-year contract extension in August.
"He's exemplified what we're all about," Melvin said. "He's meant a lot to this team, emotionally, production wise, all of the above."
When pressure comes, Nixon ready to 'stir the pot': Cleveland Indians outfielder Trot Nixon has been here before. In 2004 while with the Red Sox, Nixon and company brought home a World Series championship after sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals. Now with the Indians, Nixon is a seasoned veteran looked upon to be a team leader as the Indians face the Red Sox in the ALCS.
"It's kind of hard to really say what it feels like," Nixon told MLB.com. "I'm happy for those guys to be in this position, and I'm extremely happy for our guys to be in this position. But I want to win."
Up against his old teammates isn't going to stop Nixon from instilling as much wisdom as possible to his Indians teammates as possible, though he admits that just being around to keep it loose is about all he has done.
"I don't know if I've really tried to pass anything along," said Nixon. "I think just being in the dugout, just constantly keeping these guys' spirits up, high-fiving, maybe keeping their mind off [things] -- mostly not to get them thinking about any type of pressure that they may be feeling. They might not be feeling anything, but if it starts to creep on them in any way, that, 'I need to do this' or 'I need to do that,' I just try to stir the pot in the dugout, try to make it loud."
Dodgers wonder what could have been with Gutierrez: Cleveland Indians outfielder Franklin Gutierrez has always gotten the attention of those around him, going all the way back to his days in Los Angeles with the Dodgers. Back then, when Gutierrez was traded by the Dodgers to Cleveland, Luchy Guerra was the Dodgers' assistant director for international player development.
"I remember coming from church that particular Sunday morning that he was traded, and you couldn't help but have a tear come to your eye," Guerra told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "He's a special kind of kid, one you always knew would be a leader. I've had probably 5,000 Minor Leaguers in the past 15 years, and I hate to differentiate. But he's one of those kids who holds a special place in my heart."
Former Major League pitching great Camilo Pascual also saw something in Gutierrez.
"He looked very good," recalled Pascual. "He has all the tools. He was a tremendous defensive player at that time.
"At 17, compared to the other players at that age, he was way ahead of the rest of the guys. At that time, he was a year or two away.
"He was the player of the year for the Dodgers organization the year before they traded him. But they thought at that time [Bradley] was ready to help the Major League team right away. Unfortunately, we lost a very good player."
Ramirez returns to old stomping grounds: In the postseason, Manny Ramirez has reminded everyone that he is one of the top right-handed sluggers to ever play the game. In the upcoming ALCS, Ramirez and the Red Sox square off against the Indians. Manny began his Major League career with Cleveland.
"I fell in love with his swing," longtime Indians bullpen coach Luis Issac told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "I even told him he reminded me of Roberto Clemente."
Kenny Lofton was on the Indians when Ramirez started out and has returned to Cleveland this year.
"When Manny started off, he was very shy," Lofton said. "I think he's opened up a little bit. You can see who Manny really is. He's a fun guy. He enjoys it. You see a guy do crazy stuff like that, you have to enjoy the game."
Zambrano hopes to inspire with new book: Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano comes from a large family, and thanks to his high level of success in the Major Leagues, he no longer has to worry about fighting with his seven brothers for food back home in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela.
"I come from a big family, a poor family, and all my brothers were big -- around 6-2 like me," Zambrano told the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday during a signing promotion to promote his biography, The Big Z: The Carlos Zambrano Story, written by Pedro Miranda and published by Triumph Books.
"At first, nobody thought I would become anything like the baseball success I became," Zambrano said. "I was too clumsy and skinny. So I started out as a benchwarmer who played only during garbage time.
"But thanks to my faith in God, my hard work and God-given talent, I became what some people call a big star."
He will not, though, forget where he came from -- no matter how much success he might enjoy. "But remembering where I came from keeps me humble," he said. "Hopefully, my book will inspire other kids who started out poor like me that they can also be a success with talent, hard work and faith in Jesus Christ."
Funny seeing you here: Arizona pitcher Micah Owings said he is ready to go in Game 4 of the NLCS after throwing 70 pitches for the Diamondbacks' instructional league team Tuesday. Owings said he was pleased with his performance, though one pitch did create some excitement.
Owings faced Willy Taveras, who was playing for the Rockies' instructional league team and is hitting leadoff for Colorado in the NLCS. Owings, who hit 14 batters this season, plunked Taveras with a slider.
"I didn't even know it was him that was in the box, to be honest with you," Owings told the East Valley Tribune. "I knew he was down there to get some at-bats, but wasn't really paying attention to who was up to the plate. I wasn't trying to hit anybody. And one of them was a 1-2 pitch.
"That's not the kind of guy I am. I'm definitely not trying to hit anybody on purpose."
Taveras, who was added to the Colorado 25-man roster after missing the NLDS due to a leg injury, said Owings apologized to him on Wednesday.
Springer likes prospects for '08 with Cardinals: Before St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Russ Springer could agree to return for the 2008 season, he wanted to make sure of one thing -- that the team wasn't heading into a rebuilding mode. A conversation with team owner Bill Dewitt put him at east.
"I wanted to make sure what direction this team was going to go," Springer told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. "I don't want to be a part of a rebuilding situation at this point in my career. I got assurances that we're going to be competitive.
"Mr. DeWitt said we're going to sign the players we need to sign, go after the players we need to go after, trade if trades will help. I wanted to hear that."
Coming off of a fantastic season during which Springer pitched mostly in late relief, Springer held the opposition to a .181 batting average and was 8-1 with a 2.18 ERA. He also had two scoreless streaks of 14 or more innings.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.