TUCSON, Ariz. — Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez has a quiet, laid-back demeanor.
Just like Matt Holliday.
Gonzalez wears No. 5 and possesses a powerful swing.
Same as Holliday.
But he can’t be Holliday, only himself.
He’s hoping that’s enough.
“People aren’t going to forget Holliday. He did a lot of great things for this team,” said Gonzalez, who was acquired, along with closer Huston Street and pitcher Greg Smith, in a November deal that sent Holliday to Oakland. “He was a special player here.”
This spring, the 23-year-old Gonzalez is battling Seth Smith, Ian Stewart, Scott Podsednik and Matt Murton for the right to start in Holliday’s familiar left-field spot.
Pressure? Not really.
Immense expectations? Not so much.
“We’re not trying to be him,” Gonzalez said. “We just want to be a good player like him.”
Holliday spent five seasons in Colorado, establishing himself as one of the top power hitters in the game. Holliday’s most productive year was 2007, when he won the NL batting title with a .340 average, knocked 36 homers and had a league-best 137 RBIs in helping the Rockies reach the World Series. He finished runner-up to Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins for NL MVP.
Gone is a three-time All-Star, a fearsome hitter and a fan favorite, his jersey a popular purchase in the Mile High City.
Those are capacious cleats to fill.
“Obviously, (his loss) is going to hurt us,” Troy Tulowitzki said. “He was the best player on our team, one of the best players in the game. We’re going to miss him, but that’s how the game works. We’re going to have to move on.”
Although Smith and Stewart appear to have the inside track to the left field job, Gonzalez remains in the running. He’s gotten off to a slow start this spring, hitting .207, but is steadily finding his swing. He hit his first homer of the spring on Monday.
“I’m not anxious or anything,” he said. “It’s still early. I’m feeling more comfortable.”
Gonzalez didn’t shy away from donning Holliday’s number, figuring since he’s going to be linked with the slugger anyway, why not wear No. 5?
“I don’t really care what number I have on my back. What matters is the name you have on your chest,” he said. “I feel blessed to be here.”
In Gonzalez, the Rockies received a promising outfielder who’s still hoping to fulfill that promise. He hit .242 for Oakland last season in his first full year, but faded after the All-Star break. He brings some pop and speed to the lineup, not to mention an easygoing persona.
“What comes across is a little bit nonchalant, but it’s really not,” said Greg Smith, who got to know Gonzalez last season in Oakland. “He goes with the flow. He’s probably one of the better ones to take on that challenge of stepping in (for Holliday). He doesn’t really see it as a challenge.”
The trade didn’t catch Gonzalez by surprise.
Nothing stuns him anymore.
Not after Arizona sent him to the A’s as part of a package deal for Dan Haren in December 2007. Now that caught him off guard. Gonzalez was one of the Diamondbacks’ top prospects, and figured he’d never be shipped out.
It taught him a humbling lesson — no one’s untouchable.
“When some team wants to get a big player like Matt Holliday or an All-Star, they’re going to have to move their young talent,” Gonzalez said. “It’s just the way they do it. I understand how the game is now.”
Now his task is to help ease the loss of Holliday.
Gonzalez knows that’s not going to be easy.
“He’s a great player, an All-Star. He’s Matt Holliday,” Gonzalez said. “I’m just trying to be Carlos Gonzalez.”
He’s hoping that’s enough.