a mop-topped three-year-old who often wanders through the Colorado Rockies'
clubhouse with a miniature bat in hand, is an accomplished mimic who can
replicate the batters-box quirks of major leaguers on demand. Say
"Nomar," and he kicks his feet together and fidgets with his imaginary
batting gloves in perfect imitation of Dodgers first baseman Nomar Garciaparra.
Say "Big Papi," and he spits on his gloves and claps his hands in the
manner of Boston's David Ortiz. Say " Matt Holliday," and he draws a
cross in the carpet with his bat and swings with a high front-leg kick, just
like his dad, the Rockies' leftfielder. Say " Garrett Atkins,"
Colorado's third baseman, and Jackson lowers his grip and taps his right
shoulder with the bat and squints into the distance.
The Rockies find
Jackson's routine pretty hilarious, but most fans might not truly appreciate
his performance. Certainly they'd recognize his spot-on impressions of
Garciaparra and Ortiz, but how many would be familiar with his impersonations
of Holliday and Atkins? Playing for a team that hasn't made it to the playoffs
in a dozen years, the two Rockies sluggers are, after all, far from household
Born only 34 days
apart, the 27-year-old righthanded hitters are best friends and, in the words
of manager Clint Hurdle, "cornerstones of the Rockies organization."
Both also enjoyed breakout seasons in 2006. Batting, for the most part, third
and fourth in the lineup, Atkins and Holliday were two of only four players in
the majors to bat over .320 with at least 20 homers, 100 RBIs and 100 runs
scored. (The others were Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera.) "When you're
watching them on video, it's tough to figure out what their tendencies
are," says Cardinals backup catcher Gary Bennett, a former Rockie.
"They may get beat inside in one at bat, and the next time you try to come
in on them, they leave the yard. They seem to make adjustments throughout the
reliever Kevin Gregg, "They both hit for power, both hit for average, and
they both drive the ball all over the field. They're a tough combination to
have in a row."
little consolation to pitchers that Hurdle recently sandwiched veteran lefty
Todd Helton into the cleanup spot to give opposing managers a
righty-lefty-righty problem to cope with late in games: Helton, a five-time
All-Star, has a lifetime average of .333.)
signature at the plate is his raw power and ability to hit the breaking
ball--"very unusual for such a young hitter," says Hurdle-- Atkins
boasts a swing that sings. "There are a handful of swings in the game that
are special," says Hurdle. "And Garrett has one of the righthanded
ones, along with Manny Ramirez and Edgar Martinez, off the top of my head. It's
a picture-perfect swing. He's quick to the ball and long through it."
coach Alan Cockrell believes that stroke will someday earn a batting title for
Atkins, who was fourth in the National League in hitting last year with a .329
average. "Particularly in our ballpark, the gaps are big and there's a lot
of room," says Cockrell.
Besides being the
same age and projecting a similar humility, Holliday and Atkins also share
certain physical characteristics. Atkins is 6'3"; Holliday is 6'4".
With close-cropped, brown hair, they look enough alike from a distance that
Atkins's mom, Diana, swears she sometimes has trouble distinguishing them.
friendship began when they were road roomies at Double A Carolina in 2002.
(They met the year before, at Single A Salem, but with lockers on opposite ends
of the clubhouse, "we didn't say two words to each other the whole
season," says Holliday.) They are so tight now that Atkins, who's single,
has lived with Holliday's family during spring training for the last four
years, often serving as Jackson's babysitter after Holliday's wife, Leslee,
gave birth to the couple's second son, Ethan, on Feb. 23.
Garrett probably knows Matt better than I do; they're around each other so much
during the season," says Leslee. "They have similar personalities, the
same sense of humor, and they both have selective hearing. I'll ask Matt to do
something, and he'll act like he didn't hear it. Garrett is the same way. They
are both really good at avoiding things they don't want to do."