ST. LOUIS — Matt Holliday had a pretty simple childhood.
“We were either playing baseball or at the field with my dad,” the St. Louis Cardinals outfielder recently recalled fondly.
Holliday grew up around the game he now calls a profession thanks to his father, Tom, a longtime college coach who served as the pitching coach and then-head coach at Oklahoma State while Matt was a youngster.
There wasn’t a whole lot to do in Stillwater, Okla., so Holliday and his brother, Josh, did what any other sons of a college coach would do. They tagged along.
“My brother and I spent a lot of time at the baseball field,” Holliday said. “We have a lot of great memories around the park.”
Holliday attributes much of his success today to the early years he spent around the Oklahoma State baseball program with his father. It was then that Holliday developed a love for the sport, one that eventually led him to choose baseball over football.
Tom didn’t push baseball on Matt growing up. He didn’t have to. Despite being a talented football and basketball player, baseball was always Holliday’s passion.
Holliday was recruited to play quarterback at Oklahoma State but was drafted in the seventh round by the Colorado Rockies out of high school. Of course, he chose baseball.
“He never pushed it,” Holliday said. “I played football and basketball, and so did my brother, but it was just something that we grew up doing. We always spent a lot of time at the baseball field. Dad had a real passion for it, and I think my brother and I really picked up on it and developed it for ourselves.
“I think being around the game was very beneficial in growing to love the game. Just being out there playing and practicing and being around guys that are doing it.”
Tom Holliday coached Matt’s basketball team in the winter but couldn’t coach any of his baseball teams because of his time commitment to OSU. And while Matt was around to shag flyballs during batting practice and hit in the cage, his dad mostly kept quiet regarding his son’s swing.
Unlike most coaches, who might try to help develop their sons’ swings and constantly try to provide tips and analysis as they would to their players, Tom let Matt develop his own swing naturally. And he allowed his son to deal with successes and failures on his own.
Even now, Tom Holliday will call his son to congratulate him on a good game. But even when Matt’s in a rare slump, as he is now, the 35-year college coaching veteran refrains from offering his two cents.
“He’s never tried to be hands-on with mechanics,” Matt said. “He’s very encouraging and just kind of dad stuff, but he doesn’t try to coach me. My brother and I have a little bit more of a relationship with mechanical and swing stuff.
“I think a lot of it was just letting it come natural. Just letting his kids be natural for a while is sort of the philosophy he took and I take with my kids until you get into a little bit more competitive baseball and an age where they understand the mechanical parts.”
Tom Holliday spent 19 years as an assistant coach at Oklahoma State and seven more as the Cowboys’ head coach. He then worked three years as pitching coach at the University of Texas before landing his current gig as associate head coach at North Carolina State.
He subscribes to the “MLB Extra Innings” package and rarely misses a Cardinals game. According to Matt, they talk “every other day, at least.” But not about his slump or why he’s dropping his elbow. Tom asks about his grandchildren, Holliday’s two young sons, Jackson and Ethan, and young daughter Gracyn.
And that’s one of the things Matt likes most about his dad.
“I think the picture of who he is, is sort of how he is with his grandkids, my kids,” Holliday said. “He’s just an amazing grandfather and comes up for games and just watching him interact with my kids is one of my favorite things about him.”
Holliday’s brother, Josh, has been an assistant coach at Arizona State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, Oklahoma State and, most recently, at Vanderbilt. In the regional round of this year’s NCAA tournament, Tom’s NC State team and Josh’s Vanderbilt team were put in the same region.
And, as luck would have it, Holliday’s dad and brother ended up playing the maximum three times in the regional. NC State won the final matchup and advanced to the Super Regional.
“I watched a few innings on the Internet, but it was kind of hard to watch,” Holliday said. “I’m sure it was probably the weirdest for my mom. She was a mess when . . . they ended up having to play.”
And it has come full circle for the Holliday family. Josh was appointed head coach at Oklahoma State last week, returning the name to the city where the Holliday family was born and raised.
Tom Holliday plans to visit his grandkids in St. Louis while Holliday and the Cardinals are finishing up their upcoming trip. But he’ll also stay around to take in a few games when the team returns home.
The Holliday family has shared a special bond throughout their lives. The game of baseball continues to make it stronger. And Tom had a lot to do with it.
“Just watching his worth ethic and the passion he had for baseball and the character qualities that he had,” Holliday said. “I think my brother and I both admire and try to follow them. He’s a great dad. We love him.”