The people at Ronald Blue admired Brian Holman so much that even a telephone receptionist at headquarters in Roswell, Ga. remembered him.
Holman had never worked for the U.S. financial giant in Roswell but the receptionist recognized the name when I called to find out how I could get a hold of him after I had checked what was really an outdated web site version of the company that said he was still employed.
“He doesn’t work for us anymore,’’ the lady said.
“Any idea where I can reach him?’’ I asked.
“I hear he went into public speaking,’’ she replied.
So I did more online research and found that Holman is still living in the Wichita/Olathe area of Kansas where he had been employed Ronald Blue, a company that first hired him when he lived in Seattle. So I see a phone number and email address for Holman, who was engaged in motivational speaking and operating the Natural Baseball Academy. Within minutes, the former pitcher with the Expos and Mariners is communicating with me.
“I was an Expo true and through,’’ Holman said in an interview.
Indeed, he was. He was drafted by the Expos in 1983, came up through their minor-league system winning accolades along the way with stops in Jamestown, N.Y., West Palm Beach, Fla., Gastonia, N.C., Jacksonville, Fla. and Indianapolis.
While in Jacksonville in 1987, he ran across manager Tommy Thompson, who not only mentored him but he dealt with a lineup that included Larry Walker, Nelson Santovenia, Esteban Beltre, Randy Johnson,John Dopson, Joe Hesketh, Mark Gardner and Andy Lawrence, among others. The Jaxpos, as they were nicknamed, were an impressive 85-59.
“Brian was a really gifted athlete, a really good competitor,’’ Thompson recalled the other day. “He always accepted a challenge. He never backed down.’’
Said Holman of Thompson, “He was great. I loved him. He was a hard-nosed, old school, minor league coach. Only time he and I didn’t get a long was when he pulled me out of games.’’
And at that point, Holman started laughing.
“When I was in the Expos’ organization, guys like Joe Kerrigan and Tommy taught us competitiveness,’’ Holman said. They taught us how to play, how to be hard-nosed players.’’
Holman would later spend parts of two seasons in the big leagues with the Expos before he was dispatched to the Mariners along with Gene Harris and that Randy Johnson guy in exchange for veteran pitcher Mark Langston in May, 1989.
Ironically, late in spring training in West Palm Beach in 1988, manager Buck Rodgers had called Holman, Johnson and Harris into his tiny cubicle of an office and said, “Randy, you’re going to be our fourth starter, Brian you’re going to be our fifth starter and Gene, you’re going to be in the bullpen.’’
That rotation changed a short time later when the commissioner’s office re-instated prancing Pascual Perez from a drug suspension. Holman was thus dispatched to the bullpen.
Standing on the mound for the first time at Olympic Stadium in Montreal in 1988 was probably the highlight of Holman’s short Expos’ tenure. Who should he face as the first batter, none other than Barry Bonds of the Pirates and got him to fly out. That was almost five years to the day after he was drafted. Five days later, he pitched a complete game in beating Tom Glavine and the Braves.
Holman had heard rumors like other people that there might be a trade involving the Mariners in 1989. I had written a story that said the Expos had been discussing a trade like it actually turned out. Rodgers told me in a story for theMontreal Daily News in April that Langston was part of discussions that would see him go to Montreal for the three young stud pitchers.
“I loved the Expos’ organization,’’ Holman said. “When I was traded, it was hard. I was a little hurt. I felt like I was part of the family. We had heard the Expos needed a big-league pitcher but we didn’t think they’d trade three younger pitchers, who were kinda the future of the organization for a starter who might only be there for half a season. But David Dombrowski was under pressure to get something done.
“I was the only one of the three in the majors at the time. Gene and Randy were in Indianapolis. I grew up as an Expo and I didn’t think I would be traded so young. I was going off to an organization that I didn’t know much about. I thought of myself more as an Expo but when I spent some time with Seattle I became more known as a Mariner.’’
Holman would spend parts of three seasons with the Mariners and the highlight there was pitching a near-perfect game April 20, 1990. He retired the first 26 A’s before Ken Phelps homered. Holman finished with a one-hitter.
“That was a pretty neat deal,’’ Holman said. “You don’t set out to do that. It was a shock. I was terrible in the warmup in the bullpen. Twenty-five years ago. Insane.’’
Sadly, Holman’s career was abruptly ended because of shoulder problems. Here he was 26 and wondering what he was going to do now that he couldn’t pitch anymore.
“My rotator cuff was completely torn,’’ Holman said. “It was a full tear. I went in for a scope and came out with a total reconstruction of my shoulder. It was tough. I was in the prime of my career and was going to be eligible soon for salary arbitration.
“In 1992-93, I was on the DL with the Mariners rehabbing. The Reds claimed me off waivers in September of 1993. I went to spring training with the Reds in 1994 but got hurt again and decided to retire.’’
Holman never did get to be rich in baseball because of the injury. Trying to figure out what he was going to do was a bit of a brain scratcher.
“When you are young, things were going pretty good and then you get hurt and you have to go into the real world, make a new living. It was pretty serious stuff,’’ he said.
Holman got back into the work force by catching on with a merger and acquisitions firm in Seattle a few months after retiring and stayed with that company until 1999. That stint led him to Ronald Blue in 2000 and he was with that firm as a managing director and financial advisor until 2013.
That’s when he reached back and made another switch in life, deciding to take on the role of motivational speaker and baseball coach, who tutors both amateur and pro players. Holman tells life stories, including many from his minor-league days, even mentioning 1987 when he dug graves in Wichita. He tells his audiences not to give up, to persevere.
“In baseball, the level of failure is so great. It’s this mentality forever of never giving up that is inbred in us. The greatest hitters in the game failed 70% of the time,’’ Holman said.
That’s right, a hitter is considered a good one if he hits .300 or so. In reality, a batter went out 70% of the time. Pitchers, though, as Holman would say, don’t have that same luxury. Yes, what if a pitcher threw 70% of his pitches for balls? He wouldn’t last very long.
“You can’t throw seven pitches out of 10 for balls,’’ he said.
Then when you get taken out of the yard by a hitter, the pitcher must gear down and concentrate on the next out. The hardest part for a pitcher is to get that home run behind him and not get too high or too low or get frustrated.
Which brings one to Holman’s motto: When You Cross The Lines, Play Like Your Hair’s On Fire.
In his travels throughout Canada and the U.S as a highly sought after speaker, Holman imparts thoughts on endurance, perseverance, family trials and tragedies, such as the time he lost his daughter Kassidy, 11, in 2006 after a five-year battle with leukemia.
“That was really tough,’’ Holman said of losing his daughter.
Holman’s sonDavid Holman is also a touching story because he sustained a concussion and other injuries following a 30-foot fall from a ski chair lift as an eight-year-old. He subsequently encountered temporary paralysis from brain surgery that removed a tumor. He is recovering from Tommy John surgery and has been in the Mariners’ farm system since 2011. In his possession, Brian has a photo of Ken Griffey Jr. holding David in the clubhouse in diapers.
Brian’s brother Brad Holman had a cup of tea as a pitcher with the Mariners and Brian’s step father Dick LeMay strutted the mound in parts of three seasons in the early 1960s with the Giants and Cubs.
On top of speaking and teaching baseball skills, Holman is an avid collector of vintage baseball memorabilia.
“Especially pre-1930s,’’ he said. “I love old baseballs, My collection would be in the hundreds of balls. I especially like stuff from when the game was known as Base Ball. Anything from that time is pretty neat stuff. Been collecting that stuff a long time.’’