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Twin Peaks
April 23, 2007
Born just a month apart, the Rockies' Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins think alike, are built alike and--most important as they enter their prime--mash alike
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April 23, 2007

Twin Peaks

Born just a month apart, the Rockies' Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins think alike, are built alike and--most important as they enter their prime--mash alike

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Jackson Holliday, 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 names.

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 at bat."

Says Marlins 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."

(It's probably 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.)

While Holliday's 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."

Colorado hitting 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.

The pair's 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.

"Honestly, 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."

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