BOSTON – Finally, a worthy canvas for Matt Holliday. There is no place in baseball quite like Fenway Park and no edifice as imposing as its Green Monster, the 37-foot-tall left-field wall. Its haunches can render a great man tiny. Likewise, they can inflate reputations, the tableau ever primed to build great man into superman.
During Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night, the shadows hanging over the Monster will cast themselves directly at Holliday, the Colorado Rockies' brilliant left fielder, and one so cloaked in anonymity he might carry a Witness Protection card. It matters not whether Holliday does man left field or his manager, Clint Hurdle, opts to use him as designated hitter: The Monster is there for hitters, simultaneously inviting and taunting, especially those with a right-handed pull stroke and fever for extra-base hits.
"It's just a wall," Holliday said. "It's just higher than the rest of 'em."
Uh-huh. Just a wall like In-N-Out is just a burger joint. Holliday, by nature, goes deeper than sucking the hyperbole out of things; he vacuums out all detail, turning people, places, situations – walls – into non-entities. In Holiday's world, the Rockies made the World Series because they played well as a team. No room for fuss, no need for muss.
Accordingly, his recognition is not commensurate with his statistics. Holliday won a batting title at .340 and RBI title with 137 this season, finished fourth in the NL with 36 home runs and did so with the stealth of a cat burglar. Every temptation is there to break through the low profile of playing in Denver, and Holliday prefers to quash them.
He does not know how the Rockies will handle the eight-day layoff between their National League championship series sweep and the World Series. He does not care what they've discovered about themselves by winning 21 of 22 games, that they're heavy underdogs against Boston or whether others consider him among the best hitters in the game. Holliday's stock response generally includes the word not.
Which, at times, gets a bit awkward. Standing in the cramped visitor's clubhouse at Fenway, he tucked both his thumbs under the waistband of his jeans and fidgeted with his belt buckle. Attention can be a woodpecker.
Soon enough, comfort will come. Camera lights before the kliegs of the World Series. Small packs of questioners before the World Series dais. Dominating the NLCS before the World Series.
Once the crowd around him dissipated, Holliday's future surrounded him. Two representatives from Nike introduced themselves and started asking how he liked their product. What he thought of his spikes, his shirts, his shorts. How much new gear he needed.
"Nike Claus," someone opined.
Best to curry favor now, just in case the Rockies do win the World Series. Holliday will be a luminary by default, something for which he already draws guff from his teammates.
"Can't be messing with the superstar," said Rockies infielder Jamey Carroll, whose locker, next to Holliday's, was inaccessible for most of the pre-workout period because of the glut surrounding Holliday. "That was rude of me to even try and get in."
Holliday smirked. Grief comes from respect, and Holliday's teammates shovel him that by the gallon. After struggling the first two games against Arizona, Holliday hit a home run in Game 3 and sealed Game 4 with a 452-foot shot to dead center field. The Rockies' pulse, already surging, thumped at unseen levels.
The Holliday they knew, the one who drove them throughout September, had returned.
"He was the MVP of the NLCS and MVP candidate for the whole league," Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins said. "With that, and the fact that he's been with Colorado now for four years, he's starting to get the Todd Helton and Larry Walker treatment. And deservedly so. He enjoys it sometimes."
Not most of the time. When the Rockies visited Boston earlier in the season and took two of three games, Holliday, Atkins, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and a few others spent the day walking Boston's Freedom Trail. They walked for three hours, hitting Paul Revere's house and Old Ironsides.
"Nobody stopped us one time," Atkins said.
Should they traverse Boston again, someone might recognize Holliday. A smidgen of the gash on his chin remains from the face-first, playoff-clinching dive into home plate in the wild-card play-in game more than three weeks ago against San Diego.
Seems more like three years since Holliday's belly-flop. With it, he announced the Rockies were no fluke and were a threat, something they have proven seven consecutive times since.
"You don't get any bigger than the World Series," Holliday said. "We'll try to go out and play our game, and that's that."
For the Rockies, sure, that's that. For Holliday, it's much more, no matter his belief to the contrary. When he steps into the batter's box in the first inning against Red Sox ace Josh Beckett, his eyes will flit toward the pitcher's mound, toward Pesky Pole down the right-field line, toward the hole between shortstop and third base – everywhere, really, because a man's first World Series at-bat has a way of turning concentration into ADD.
Eventually, they'll dart toward the Monster, and for a second they'll lock on it and steal one final glance.
And the Monster will stare right back at Matt Holliday and wonder whether it will add one more victim to its list.