He may be the oldest player on the roster, but Matt Holliday still knows how to feel young.
The Yankees’ 37-year-old designated hitter — who’s also sampling some time in the field at first base — has become the veteran voice of reason in a clubhouse with an average age of 28.4. Whether or not Holliday asked for it upon his arrival to New York, he’s voluntarily taken several young players under his wing since spring training, which has influenced team chemistry and fostered a winning atmosphere.
“The way we played in spring training, I felt really good about our team going into the season,” Holliday told MLB Network Radio’s Casey Stern on Thursday. “There’s been a real cool energy. There’s a lot to be optimistic about with the Yankees organization right now. It’s a really exciting time to be a Yankees fan and this team is a lot of fun. I think the crowd sees that and I think they feed off of that. It’s really catching some steam, and I think the last four months of the season are going to be really exciting.”
Although Holliday has productively carried his own weight in terms of offense (.274 BA, 13 HR, 45 RBI), the talk of baseball has revolved around 25-year-old rookie Aaron Judge, who’s posted MVP-caliber numbers at the plate in just 62 games. In terms of mentoring Judge, Holliday hasn’t had to spend too much time doing such, which he believes speaks to how special the young slugger is.
“For all the great things you can say about his play and his talent and just how fun it is to watch him play, he is genuinely a better person than he is a player,” Holliday said. “As a 37-year-old in my 14th season, he motivates me. The energy and the charisma that he brings to the field every day rubs off on you and makes you want to be a better player, and I think that’s such a unique quality. I really can’t say enough good things about him as a person. It’s been a really fun opportunity to get to know him as a person and just to really watch him do his thing on a day to day basis.”
Judge’s hitting pace has been so prodigious that Holliday couldn’t help but compare it to a streak of a former teammate and future Hall of Famer, who recently joined the 600 home run club.
“When I’m on a deck watching [Judge’s] at-bats to what I used to watch on deck with Albert [Pujols] in St. Louis, as far as finding the barrel, every time he gets a good pitch to hit, it’s coming off hot,” Holliday said. “And [Judge’s] swing is so efficient right now and you combine it with how good his swing is, how efficient his timing is with the fact that he’s 6-foot-7, 275-pounds and extremely strong, the combination of the two is very similar to what I saw with Albert. And I honestly think he has a chance to be an all-time great player.”
While just three inches in height seperate Holliday from Judge, the duo is known for brute strength, just look at the size of their biceps. But Yankees’ shortstop Didi Gregorius told MLB Network Radio that Judge would beat out Holliday in an arm wrestling contest, and without hesitation, Holliday agreed.
“I would say Judge, but it’d probably be a good one,” he said. “The thing is, his hands and feet are so big. I think it’d be a good battle, but this guy’s hands — he wears the biggest batting gloves you’ve ever seen. If we were doing a forearm curl contest, I’d take my chances. But I think my hands getting around his monster paws would be a bit tricky. Plus his forearms are a lot longer. He’s a giant human.”
As for matters back on the field, Holliday has also been impressed with the maturity level of second basemen Starlin Castro, who he watched as a rival player in the National League Central division for seven seasons (2010-15).
“He has an innate ability to find hits,” Holliday said. “He runs out of the box well, he comes to play every day. This guy’s got a legit chance to get 3,000 hits. He’s only 27-year-old and he’s got close to 1,200-1,300 hits and he’s got a chance to get 3,000 hits and be in the Hall-of-Fame. He’s a fun player to watch, he has tough at-bats, he finds the barrel a lot. He brings a good vibe to the team and I’ve really enjoyed my time with Starlin.”
On August 26, Major League Baseball will put its regular uniform rules on halt, and incorporate an event called the “Players Weekend,” which will allow players to personalize their jerseys with nicknames on the back. Holliday happens to be a fan of the initiative, even though he hasn’t brainstormed a fun twist to his uniform just yet.
“I’m all about making the game fun and trying some new things, especially when there’s a good cause involved,” he said. “I don’t have a great nickname, so I don’t know where I’m going with this. It’s cool to see kids getting excited about this stuff and being open-minded. I think I’ll probably end up being ‘Holliday’ on the back of my jersey.”
Holliday’s one-year, $13 million contract with the Yankees expires after this season.