2nd of Jul | Story

Catching up on crossed signals


MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina | During the three months he pitched in the major leagues, Brad Holman lost three games for the Seattle Mariners, saved three more, picked up two holds though no one recognized the statistic even then and, on September 7, 1993, a night game against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, earned one glorious win.

Holman pitched four innings of middle relief that night, retired seven of the last eight batters he faced, quieted future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. after a couple of fly outs and watched the last outs of the win in the dugout, a warmup jacket over his shoulders.

All that almost never happened. The Kansas City Royals had released Holman less than two years before that night, late during spring training in March 1991. For a while, Holman figured he was finished.

“My girlfriend, now my wife, was supposed to pick me up, but she wasn’t at the airport,” Holman says. He sits behind a picnic table in the home bullpen at Pelicans Ballpark, sunglasses over his eyes, the hint of a gut over the top of his belt buckle. Now in his second season as the pitching coach for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, he teaches what he learned years ago. “I called my mom and asked where Stephanie was. She said Brian, my older brother, in the major leagues with Seattle at the time, had called and said I was supposed to be on the next flight to Arizona.

“Jim Beattie got out there and he introduced himself and I introduced myself and he shook my hand and said, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard a lot about you. Unfortunately, we’re in the process of making a lot of decisions. We don’t really have anything for you right now.’ I didn’t know what to say." — Myrtle Beach pitching coach Brian Holman

“The Mariners were going to give me a chance.”

So Holman never walked out of Kansas City International, just booked another flight back out west. What happened next managed to embarrass him then. Now he just laughs about it. 

“I walked up to the spring training facility of the Seattle Mariners, and I look like a big joke walking up there with all my stuff,” Holman says. “I found the clubbie who’s supposed to get me in touch with Jim Beattie,” then the Mariners director of player development. “Jim Beattie got out there about 20 minutes later, and he introduced himself and I introduced myself and he shook my hand and said, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard a lot about you. Unfortunately, we’re in the process of making a lot of decisions. We don’t really have anything for you right now.’ I didn’t know what to say. 

“My brother was pitching that day against the Angels and he hadn’t given up a run in like two spring trainings. I told him, ‘They told me they didn’t have anything for me.’ He said, ‘You got to be kidding me.’ His wife came and picked me up and we walked into the stadium and he’s on the bullpen mound, warming up. He sees me and shouts, ‘It’s going to be OK!’ Super humbling.”

Everything worked, of course. The next day, Holman spent part of the afternoon at an Easter cookout his brother hosted at his apartment — an Easter cookout also attended by Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson and Edgar Martinez, among other Mariners — when he received a call from Woody Woodward, then the Mariners general manager. “‘We got our signals crossed,’” Holman remembers Woodward saying. “‘Come out tomorrow. We’d like to give you another chance.’”

Holman survived spring training — though Tyler Williams, his college roommate at Auburn did not — and pitched the season with the old Peninsula Pilots in the Carolina League. The next season, he started in Peninsula, then received a call up to the Jacksonville Suns in the Southern League. The climb continued the next season to the old Calgary Cannons of the Pacific Coast League and, on July 4, the Mariners. “My goal that day,” he says, “was just throw it in the zone and hope.”

That was the apex. Holman was back in the minors the next season, off the mound altogether after the 1996 season. He was 28. 

Since then, Holman has worked as the pitching coach for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, the San Antonio Missions, the old West Tenn Diamond Jaxx (who play now as the Jackson Generals), the Altoona Curve, the Hickory Crawdads and, for the last two seasons, the Pelicans. He has been back in the minors, a coach, for more than a decade. He does want to return to the majors. “My goal here, though,” he says, “is development.” 

He wants more pitchers to have moments like he did. 

He wants them to have careers.




Time for minor league trivia. A handful of minor league teams have called the tourist magnet that is Myrtle Beach their home over the last quarter of a century, including the Blue Jays (1987-90), the Hurricanes (1991-92), the Pelicans (1999-present) and what fictional team that first appeared back in 2009? (Keep reading for the answer.)

Ace Kyle Hendrickson pitched eight quality innings and the Pelicans erupted late to rally and score three runs in the bottom of the seventh on their way to a 4-3 win over the Salem Red Sox. After they managed to push across just one run during the first six innings, the Pelicans scored just enough to (finally) support Hendrickson, among the best pitchers in the Carolina League in every statistical measurement other than wins and losses. Designated hitter Vincent DiFazio doubled home first baseman Brett Nicholas and, two batters later, catcher Tomas Telis singled to drive in third baseman Christian Villanueva and DiFazio. On the mound, Hendrickson allowed three runs on nine hits, struck out eight, walked none and picked up his fourth win of the season to go along with an impressive 2.59 ERA. (Four weeks later, the Rangers shipped both Hendrickson and Villanueva to the Cubs for Ryan Dempster.)

Matt West has packed a lot of stories into his first five years out of Bellaire High School down in Texas. The Rangers grabbed him in the second round of the 2007 draft, a third baseman with some power and a good bat, and shipped him to the Arizona League. Then he failed a drug test and sat for 50 games during a suspension. After three more seasons with mixed results (a dozen steals one season, 13 home runs the next, but also a plummeting average and 52 errors in 187 games in 2008 and 2009), the Rangers asked him to think about a move to the mound. West says he liked the idea almost immediately. “When I first got converted, it was kind of tough to realize you’re not good enough to be a position player and now you have to be a pitcher, but to do it, you really have to buy into it, and I did. And I love it,” he says. “I can dictate the tempo of the game, and that’s something that fits my personality better than a waiting game, which hitting is, playing defense, waiting for something to happen. I get in, get out. It’s all adrenaline, and I love the rush.” Last season, he struck out 35 and walked one over 27 innings. This season has been mixed, again, too many walks and runs allowed, too few strikeouts. Stay tuned for the next chapter of West’s always-evolving story.

After five straight seasons of average attendance increases at Pelicans Ballpark through 2009, the numbers dipped two seasons ago and have remained steady ever since. Regularly in the top half of the league in attendance but well off the pace of Frederick, Wilmington and Winston-Salem, the Pelicans managed to increase their average attendance from 2,870 during the 2005 season to 3,079, then 3,116, then 3,564, and finally 3,610 during the 2009 season. The growth stopped during the 2010 season, though, when the average dropped to 3,282, then 3,280 last season (then 3,273 this season). The tourist draw helps tremendously, folks in the front office say — families on vacation do sometimes want more than a morning at the beach, an afternoon at the outdoor mall and a night out at dinner — but the extreme transience of their fan base also hurts. At least the city is the favorite road trip destination of every other team in the league.

Want the answer? The Mermen, the team that featured profane fireballer Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) during the third season of Eastbound & Down on HBO, also call Myrtle Beach their home. Part of the third season was filmed at Pelicans Ballpark and the team sells Mermen caps, shirts and Kenny Powers Halloween costume kits in their shop. Not familiar with the pull of Powers? He’s “just a man with a mind for victory and an arm like a f—ing cannon.”

And in random statistical news, Megan Gray sang the national anthem in 1 minute and 15.1 seconds, the game started three minutes late, the first pitch was a strike and the first batter grounded out to first. For dinner, we ordered a basket of Bog Balls, one of the signature items Ricky Andrews added to the ballpark menu — chicken, kielbasa, Italian sausage, bacon, onion, bay leaves, salt and pepper, packed together and fried — and they were delicious. (When can we have more?)

Matt@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @MattLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason

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