Matt Holliday happy to pass the baseball baton to son Jackson

The family tables have turned for the Hollidays.

Jackson Holliday is no longer “Matt’s son,” as he’s been referenced for most of his life. Matt Holliday, who had a 15-year major league career and made seven All-Star teams, was introduced today as “Jackson’s dad” to begin a press conference at Camden Yards.

Much to his amusement.

The former outfielder repeated the line before and after sitting down in front of the cameras and recorders. It already felt natural. It gave him another reason to be proud.

The Orioles selected Jackson with the first-overall pick in the MLB Draft, signed him to a contract this afternoon and introduced him to the local media. Matt, wife Leslee, children Ethan, Reed and Gracyn and Jackson's girlfriend Chloe Cox sat in the front row as Jackson buttoned his Orioles jersey and pulled down his cap.

“I’m thrilled for him, I’m super happy for him,” Matt said. “This has been his dream since he was a little boy, to be drafted and hopefully play in the major leagues. I’m really proud of him. He’s a great kid, first and foremost. The most important thing is his character and he’s a really good kid. We’re proud of him. This is his career and we’re excited for him.”

A career that Matt didn’t push him into. The same with Ethan, a freshman infielder at Stillwater High School who’s already committed to Oklahoma State. They were exposed to the sport. The choices were left to them.

“I wanted what’s best for my kid,” Matt said. “I want my kids to pursue their passion, whatever that looks like. It’s awesome that it’s baseball because I also have a passion for baseball. I’ve enjoyed being part of his passion and what he wants to do, but I haven’t tried to make baseball players since they were little. I just wanted them around me.

“I think the fact that they grew up, particularly the two older ones with me on the field and being around baseball their whole lives, I think they found a passion with it, as well. I’m excited that this is what he wants to do, and looking forward to watching his career.”

Jackson is reporting Thursday to the Florida Complex League team in Sarasota. Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias confirmed where Jackson would begin playing but not for how long at the lower level.

“He will be with our Florida Complex team in Sarasota, at our great facility there, and we’ll take it from there,” Elias said. “But I imagine he’s going to spend the majority of the summer there, if not all of the summer there. There’s not much season left, and we’ll hopefully get him into some game action as soon as possible.”

The rest of the family is heading back to Oklahoma. It’s time for Jackson to fly solo.

“He’s ready to go out on his own,” Matt said. “I love to watch him play, so I’d like to come watch him play as much as possible. I’m obviously a phone call away from anything he would need as a kid going away from home. But he’s a mature kid.

“There’s some players in the organization that I know. Nolan McLean was a third-rounder (from Oklahoma State), I had a chance to coach the last two years. He and Jackson have a friendship, and he’s an incredible worker, as well, so I trust their relationship. Brian Roberts lives in Sarasota, and Brian’s a really close friend of mine. He’s known Jackson since he was a little guy.

“He’s got a good support system for an 18-year-old who’s kind of going away from home for the first time. I love to watch him play, so I’m going to try to see him as much as I can.”

Jackson's stock soared in his senior year at Stillwater, where he batted .685/.749/1.392 and set a national record with 89 hits. He was named the Gatorade High School Player of the Year for Oklahoma and Baseball America’s National High School Player of the Year.

“I think the maturation of a young kid to a man, he started getting man muscles and he started getting stronger,” Matt said. “I always had a feeling like, he’s always had skill, and when his skill sort of collided with his strength, that he would really take off and have a chance to play at a high level.

“Just watching him work and being close to him every day and getting a chance to watch how intentional he was with everything he did. When he had a goal, and he was able to have an incredible spring, and the way he handled having 30-40 scouts at every game, and people trying to come early and have an opposition, they wanted to see how good he was. So, it was just fun watching him perform and I’m really proud of him.”

The pressure of being Matt’s son never got to Jackson. Didn’t distract him or ruin the experience of playing baseball.

Where others may have shrunk from it, Jackson blossomed.

“I think that he’s always just kind of loved to play baseball, didn’t really let the outside things bother him,” Matt said. “I think the way he’s played, like he plays the game hard, he’s not flashy, he doesn’t showboat. I think people appreciate his humility. I don’t think it’s been that hard for him to navigate that.

“I think it does helps that he’s been around major league baseball his whole life and he’s good friends with superstar players like Nolan Arenado. He’s seen a great example from some of our friends and how to respond to situations, so I’m not really concerned about that. I think he’ll handle that really well, and he always has.”

There's also the scrutiny of being one/one in a draft. The spotlight can be intense, much hotter than the Florida sun.

"I just know, and I’ve talked to him about the fact that it’s a little different experience than if he goes second or third in the draft," Elias said. "My assessment is that he will be equipped to involve those challenges productively in his development path. I think the baseball draft is a lot of randomness to it. It’s very rare for the first pick taken to end up being the very best player in the whole draft. And that’s not the expectation or even the need when you’re picking No. 1. We just kind of want to make the best investment at that moment that we can possibly make, take the right player for us. Which is fine if that’s the fit. And hopefully have a really solid, healthy, productive career and help us win playoff games in Baltimore."

“It comes with some pressure,” Jackson said, “but luckily enough I’ve got a good foundation with my family and I’m just going to handle it like I have everything. Just play hard and work out and try to be the best player I can be.”

Matt can offer advice to his son about life as a professional, but there isn’t much that hasn’t already been discussed. So much ground has been covered.

“I would say just the element of the work that starts now,” Matt said. “He already understands that. We’ve talked about this. He has a tremendous work ethic. I think when you enter into the professional baseball pool of players, the separator is all the little things. We just talked about the work that it takes, the sacrifice that it takes to get to where you want to go.”

The pitfalls aren’t cause for concern. Matt trusts his son’s judgement and instincts beyond what happens in the batter’s box.

“I don’t think there’s anything particular,” Matt said. “I’m not worried about his character. I just think the continual work and not paying attention to all the social media and kind of the chatter. Keep his circle tight and just play ball and be a good teammate. And continue to have that passion like he did when you’re a kid of playing and doing baseball stuff, and like I said, relationships, all the things that were my favorite part of baseball.

“I just want him to concentrate on those and not get caught up in some of the stuff that is going on with the static nowadays.”

“I think the separator for him is going to be what he’s going to bring to the table off the field in terms of applying himself, knowing where he is going with his game, work ethic and certainly the off-the-field foundation that his family has brought in and will continue to bring in and his representation is here today,” Elias said.

“We’re very encouraged that he’s got the right head on his shoulders and the right direction in terms of maximizing his potential. This is a tough game to play nowadays for young players. There’s so much work that goes into it, so many adjustments to have, you can have bumps in the road and it’s never easy now for even the best prospects in the game to make it up to the majors and be successful in the major leagues. But it’s even harder I think when you’re the No. 1 pick. I’ve seen a lot firsthand of the work that Adley Rutschman has done in his path up here and other players and how much that takes. I’m very confident that Jackson’s going to be right alongside the best in terms of applying himself and doing the best that he can."

Jackson took batting practice after finishing his press conference. Matt, Elias and manager Brandon Hyde stood behind the cage. The swing looked like the one that had scouts rushing to Stillwater.

How does Camden Yards suit his son?

“Well, the good thing is that he can do a lot of things offensively,” Matt said. “Obviously, he doesn’t want to hit the ball to straight left field anymore, from what I saw. But the fact that he runs so well, he hits the ball in the gaps, and then obviously a little bit of a short porch in right field. As a left-handed hitter, it should help him to hit some home runs down the line. But for him, he can win games in a lot of different ways. That’s I think his real strong point is that he can impact a game in different places.”

Jackson is eager to take batting practice again in Baltimore before playing in a game. Today was for show. He wants the next rounds to count, and as quickly as possible.

“I want to be up here as fast as possible,” he said. “I would love to come out hot and continue to play well so hopefully two years or less would be my goal. I know it’s a big goal, but I think I can do it.

“It’s awesome to be able to get into an organization that’s headed in such a great direction and I’m hoping that I can get here fast and contribute in a good way.”

* The Orioles haven't listed their starters for the weekend series in Cincinnati. The Reds are starting left-hander Mike Minor, right-hander Tyler Mahle and left-hander Nick Lodolo.

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