St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday has worked with several hitting coaches he respects. But throughout his career, his No. 1 hitting confidant has been his brother, Josh, Oklahoma State's first-year baseball coach.
“He's the one I trust the most with my swing,” Holliday said. “He's who I go to. He's seen me since I was a kid. He watches all my games. If something doesn't feel right, something is off, or I'm trying to make an adjustment, he's the one I call or fly him in.”
Holliday has spent the past month working with Josh. Matt purchased a small house in Stillwater where he and his wife, Leslee, and their three children have lived.
“I took this opportunity with him being back in Oklahoma,” Holliday said. “My wife's family is from here. This was a great chance to work with Josh and spend some time with family. Josh has great expertise in both the mechanical and mental side.”
Josh said Matt's mindset and work ethic helped him develop into a six-time All-Star more than any coaching.
Still, the year Holliday had a breakthrough in his final minor league season before he broke in with the Colorado Rockies was the year he worked extensively with Josh.
“Those are things he's held on to,” Josh said. “His first four or five years in the majors, he really came into his own. Pro athletes have people they trust that were part of helping them get where they're at. They know your heart is in the right place and you want nothing from them other than to be successful.”
Matt, 33, takes pride in his consistency. A lifetime .313 hitter, Holliday has batted .290 or better all of his nine major league seasons. He's averaged more than 100 RBIs the past eight seasons.
This offseason, one subtle change was slightly lowering his hands to get his bat through the zone quicker.
“Josh and I are always bouncing things off each other,” Matt said. “We go back and forth. It helps having him watch.”
The plan is that the intricate offseason habits developed with his brother over the past month will be beneficial during a 162-game grind where slumps are inevitable.
“From time to time everybody goes back to the basics,” Josh said. “Sometimes you go back to your roots where you established things. That's where Matt and I have developed that trust. I watch every game that he plays.
“We speak often during the season. You can sometimes see on TV he's not as comfortable as he can be. You point out good things so he doesn't dwell on the negative and maybe point out something on the physical or mental side. But when we talk sometimes it's, ‘How are the wife and kids.'”
The past month they didn't have to phone one another.
Moving the family to Stillwater for a month after the holidays, Matt has reconnected with friends. He's attended OSU basketball games, even some Stillwater High games.
Oklahoma is home.
Leslee attended OSU. Her parents still live in Chickasha, where she was raised. Her two brothers live in Oklahoma City. Her best friend is Jenny Holliday, Josh's wife.
“We love it here and we love our families,” Leslee said. “We can be flexible a little bit longer until the kids get older. ... A dream would be to retire in Stillwater on a big piece of land with a lake. But we haven't made any of those decisions, yet.”
Matt has four years left on a seven-year, $120 million contract. They've lived in St. Louis year round the past two years. Matt and Leslee are active in St. Louis charities, including Matt taking on a larger role in some of Albert Pujols' charities after Pujols signed with the Angels.
“We do love it here (in Oklahoma),” Matt said. “It's nice to be around family. Obviously this has been home to me most of my life. My brother is here now. Leslee's family is close. It will be an offseason to offseason deal.”
The Hollidays will have three residences this year. Matt reports this week to training camp in Jupiter, Fla. The family will join him in Florida and return to St. Louis when the regular season begins.
Leslee is pregnant. The couple's fourth child is due in August. Jackson, 9, is the oldest. He's in third grade.
“Jackson is a gypsy. He rolls with it very well,” Matt said. “It's good for him. He's a pretty cultured kid. Being friends with the principal and knowing people around here (in Stillwater) they've been very accommodating.
“We're in a profession where we're pretty mobile. Pro baseball is not a normal person's life. There's nothing cut and dried what we'll be doing (next offseason or the future). We kind of fly by the seat of our pants.”
It probably would be unrealistic to take extended offseason trips to Stillwater when all the kids are school age.
“Sometime down the road, when baseball is over, if Oklahoma becomes a permanent home, I know Matt would be really happy with that,” Josh said. “It's been great to be around them. It's been awesome for our kids. It's been a fun offseason for him and great for us.
“But right now Matt is preparing himself to be the best player he can be and help the Cardinals win the world championship. When he breaks camp he wants to have his best season ever. That's all he's thinking about right now.”