PHOENIX — The worst place to look for Matt Holliday before a game is at his locker.

You're more likely to find the A's new left fielder in the weight room riding the stationary bike, or maybe in the batting cage taking extra swings.

There aren't many wasted moments in Holliday's work day. And considering that his resume includes a batting title and an MVP award from the 2007 National League Championship Series, it's not like the extra effort is needed to score points with his new team.

Holliday — acquired from the Colorado Rockies in November for outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and pitchers Greg Smith and Huston Street — explained his approach to the game.

"Baseball is something I enjoy," he said. "I want to be the best player I can be. The only way I know to maximize my talent is to work at it."

Not thrilling stuff, but it gets to the core of what makes Holliday tick. He's one of the major leagues' most unassuming superstars, and his work ethic is making an impression with his teammates.

"His skills go without saying," said Jason Giambi, the other key hitter the A's obtained over the winter. "He's a phenomenal player. But just the type of guy he is is really what matters. And I think that's why (A's general manger) Billy (Beane) went out and got him."

Holliday, 29, seemed destined to make his living on the diamond. His father, Tom, was head coach at Oklahoma State for seven seasons and is now an assistant at North Carolina State. His older brother, Josh, is the recruiting coordinator at Arizona State. His uncle, Dave Holliday, is a special assistant to Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd.

One of Holliday's favorite players growing up was former Oklahoma State star and Chicago White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura, who labeled Matt and Josh "field rats" because of their love for baseball.

"Robin was one of those guys they looked up to," Tom Holliday said. "If Robin had called them a dirt bag, they would have thought 'dirt bag' was an honor."

But coming out of Stillwater High School, Holliday was one of the nation's hottest quarterback recruits. He broke several of Troy Aikman's Oklahoma prep passing records, and former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson reportedly told Tom Holliday that his son "couldn't miss" as a quarterback.

Holliday was drafted by the Rockies out of high school in 1998 and decided to sign. He's been an All-Star three times in five big league seasons and in 2007 led the NL in batting (.340) and RBI (137) to go with 36 homers.

"He is such an offensive threat," one major league scout said. "I've seen him take a pitch down and away, what you'd say is a 'pitcher's pitch,' and drive it out of the park. He's as dangerous as there is."

The A's will pair him with Giambi in the middle of their order, though the question is for how long.

Holliday, who is represented by Scott Boras, can become a free agent after the season, and it's expected he would command a huge contract on the open market. It's possible the A's will trade him before the July 31 deadline if they're not contending in the American League West.

Tom Holliday knows his A's history — "I saw Sal Bando and Joe Rudi and Reggie Jackson win championships" — and said he's brought Matt up to speed on the franchise's past.

Though it's assumed the A's wouldn't compete in a bidding war with other clubs, Tom Holliday said it's wrong to think his son doesn't consider Oakland a long-term option.

Holliday has reached out to his new teammates. This winter, he called up A's shortstop Bobby Crosby and invited Crosby to hit with him and Mark McGwire, who has tutored Holliday frequently.

"I still haven't asked him how he got my number," Crosby said. "I really don't care. It was pretty cool."

Knowing there's uncertainty about where his future takes him, Holliday was asked how he approaches this season.

"The same way I would if I was under a 20-year contract," he said. "This has nothing to do with being a free agent or (playing for) a contract or any of that stuff. This has to do with having the inner desire to want to be the best that you can be."

Contact Joe Stiglich at jstiglic@bayareanewsgroup.com.

"His skills go without saying."
-- Jason Giambi