April 11, 2005
For the last several years, Stanford sophomore pitcher Blake Holler has had to make a series of big adjustments. It started in his early teenage years for the Indiana native when the one-time three-sport athlete began to hone in on baseball.
First, he dropped tennis before he even started at Terre Haute North Vigo High School. Then, he did the unthinkable in the hoops-crazy state when he stopped playing competitive basketball after his freshman year in high school.
'Everybody grows up playing basketball in Indiana,' recalls Holler, who has a great uncle, Jim Deakyne, who played for the 1953 Indiana men's basketball national champions. 'It seems like there's a hoop in every yard.'
Although he still enjoys playing a little recreational basketball, he says the decision was quite simple. He just analyzed the situation and figured he had a better chance to succeed as a baseball player than he did on the hardwood.
'At the time, I was a 6-2 power forward (he's now 6-4),' laughs Holler. 'I just realized that at my size and ability level, I just wasn't going to do much in basketball. Our team was really good, and I wasn't even going to have a shot to play much until my senior year.'
He had played varsity baseball as a freshman but had pitched only six innings for the squad, partially because he was unable to properly prepare his arm due to his participation in basketball.
Still, he showed promise pitching with the junior varsity team, even throwing a no-hitter on one occasion and going 10 innings on another. He also reached 84 mph on a radar gun. When his baseball coach told him that he was hoping he could be the team's ace the following year, he decided that baseball would be his only sport.
'It was kind of crazy because I was playing three sports right before high school,' remembers Holler. 'First I dropped tennis and then a year later it was basketball.'
Holler's move to a single sport immediately made a difference. Without basketball on his plate, he was able to work more on getting his arm ready for his upcoming sophomore season. He attended voluntary pitching practice sessions three times a week at 6:30 in the morning and before long was drawing the interest of some of the nation's top collegiate baseball programs.
When Stanford became one of those interested, it was like a dream come true.
'I had always wanted to play at Stanford, but I never thought it was going to be a reality,' explains Holler. 'My wildest dreams were just to play at Indiana or Indiana State so that I could get my college education paid for.'
Holler also took recruiting trips to Auburn, Notre Dame and Texas, but all three were secondary choices just in case something fell through at Stanford.
'They were immediately leaps and bounds above everyone else,' said Holler.
When the life-long Indiana resident arrived on The Farm in the Fall of 2003, he began another adjustment period, getting used to life in the Bay Area.
'Everything was so different,' recalled Holler. 'The mindset of people and the way they lived their lives was not quite the same as it was in Indiana, but I feel like I've adjusted relatively well.'
There were also adjustments in the classroom.
'I had aspired to be pre-med, but I quickly realized that it would be very tough to succeed at that if I was also planning to make a full commitment to baseball,' said Holler, who is know expecting to major in political science and has aspirations of going to law school after graduation.
On the field, he made the adjustment from high school to college baseball seem easy.
Holler earned a save against perennial College World Series participant Cal State Fullerton in the team's first game of his freshman season in 2004. Then, he picked up another in his next outing versus Fresno State and less than a month later he was in the team's starting rotation.
His first collegiate start came in the rubber game of a series versus Texas on February 22 when he led the Cardinal to a victory by allowing just one run and three hits in 6.0 innings. The next week he pitched 7.0 innings to beat California, giving up only a run and five hits. He had another outstanding start to top Cal Poly on March 27, giving up just one run in a career-best 8.0 innings and headed into conference action with a 3-1 record and a 3.03 ERA.
But, that's when things got tough.
He gave up five runs in only 4.1 innings in his first Pac-10 start at UCLA in a game the Cardinal eventually came back to win 15-13. In his next outing, he allowed five more runs in just 3.2 innings to take a loss at Oregon State. Then he gave up two early runs versus California this following week, walking three batters and giving up three hits before he got the early hook in the second inning.
After his three sub-par conference starts, Holler found himself back in the team's bullpen.
Again, he adjusted.
Holler responded to his demotion with 8.0 consecutive shutout innings over his first five appearances out of the bullpen and ended up as the team's Most Valuable Freshman with a 4-2 record, a pair of saves and a respectable 4.34 ERA in a team co-leading 22 appearances.
Holler moved on to the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod Baseball League last summer. After two bad starts to begin the season, he found himself back in the pen. Once again, he responded by being one of the team's most relied upon relievers and helped lead his club to the Cape Cod Baseball League title.
This season, Holler hasn't had to make any major adjustments yet, but he's hoping to. He started the season in the bullpen and has been outstanding, sharing the Pac-10 lead in wins with a 3-0 record and posting a 3.50 ERA in a team co-leading five appearances.
Numbers he hopes can earn him another shot at the rotation. He thinks he could make that adjustment just fine.
by Kyle McRae