On April 20, 1990, Seattle Mariners pitcher Brian Holman was one out away from throwing a perfect game and Major League Baseball immortality. After recording 26 outs, Oakland A’s pinch-hitter Ken Phelps ruined his dream with a line-drive home-run over the right-field fence at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
But coming so close to ultimate success on the diamond pales to his inspirational life story and the true meaning of life.
Hundreds of Turlockers gathered at Larsa Banquet Hall on Thursday for the 18th Annual Mayor’s Breakfast to hear Holman’s story, as well as to share in the National Day of Prayer.
Mayor John Lazar called upon residents to support local activities through unity and be understanding of local civic leaders, but the star and inspiration of the show was Holman.
Holman admitted that he is best known for coming so close and failing to throw a perfect game than if he had thrown one.
“In many ways that game is a lot like life. Just when you think all is right in the world it can all be taken away in an instant,” he said.
But that very moment, a moment that has defined him to baseball fans every since, is just a snippet of his incredible journey towards an unrelenting faith in God and a true belief in his ultimate destination.
As a child Holman and his brother, Brad, grew up in an alcoholic home with an aggressive father. To escape their home lives Brad and Brian would play Whiffleball and baseball for hours on end on a cul-de-sac in rural Kansas.
“Baseball was a scapegoat for us,” said Brian. “We played so much and eventually we got really good.”
After high school Brian skipped on a chance to play collegiate baseball for the University of Nebraska. He elected to enter the MLB free-agent draft, where he was the 16th player selected overall by the Montreal Expos.
As a 19-year-old rookie, he was invited to spring training. His first batter faced was the legendary Pete Rose, whom Holman nearly clocked in the head on his first two pitches.
“Baseball is so much failure and in many ways it’s like life. Even the best hitters are only right 30 percent of the time,” he said.
After more than four years in the minor league he was called up to the show. His first start; the Pittsburgh Pirates and MLB’s all-time home run king Barry Bonds. He lost that game but five days later he won his first game 7-1 when he out dueled ace-pitcher Tom Glavine of the Atlanta Braves.
Holman was on top of the world. During his minor league days, he had gotten married, had a beautiful son, had a nice car, a house and his face was on a baseball card. When he got his first MLB pay check it seemed as if Brian was on the path to a success- filled life.
“I had it all, yet I was miserable. I worked hard and I got there but it didn’t change anything. I was on the verge of divorce with my wife,” said Holman.
But, yet again, this series of events was nothing compared to what Brian and his family would endure in the years to come. Through this trial of happiness Brian and his wife discovered their faith in God through a teammate’s wife and numerous Bible study groups.
“On Oct. 31, 1988, after I was so frustrated with life, I gave my life to Christ. I’ll never forget how when I lifted my head I saw my wife crying tears of joy,” said Brian. “She was crying because she knew that someday I would be in heaven with her.”
The next season Brian and teammate, strikeout king Randy Johnson, were traded to the Seattle Mariners for ace Mark Langston. In the following seasons Brian endured numerous shoulder surgeries and despite his near perfect game his career, which had begun with so much promise (15 complete games), was cut short from injury. He would never pitch again in the majors after 1991 and finished with a 37-45 overall record.
Brian has almost reached the mountain top but came up just short, but again his faith in life would be tested.
Eight years later, in 1999, Brian and his wife celebrated their 13th wedding anniversary at home. Their children were gone on a ski trip when Brian received a phone call. His son, David, had fallen 30 feet from a chair life and broken many of his bones and suffered a severe concussion and internal injuries. During a check doctors discovered a small tumor in David’s brain.
“It took me to my knees,” said Brian.
At the time the tumor was benign, a relief to the Holman family. To make a matters worse for the family, just a short time later Brian required open-heart surgery for a broken valve. In January 2000, their daughter, Cassidy, 4, whom they had previously adopted, was diagnosed with leukemia.
David’s brain tumor became active months after Cassidy’s diagnosis. At age 11 David underwent surgery and complications left his entire left side paralyzed.
“After he rehabilitated diligently, he got his strength back. Now he is my hero and my inspiration,” said Brian.
David went on to become a star pitcher at Hutchington Junior College in Kansas and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners last year in the 47th round.
For Cassidy however, the battle of life had been lost. At 10 years old she passed away in July 2006.
“She told me ‘daddy I don’t want to die, I want to get married and have babies.’ She asked me why she had to die and I told her because sometimes people are so special that God wants to take you to heaven early. Thirteen days later she died,” said Brian.
The emotional story of his daughter wasn’t the conclusion of his story in Turlock on Thursday.
After Brian’s shoulder last shoulder surgery in the early 90s he was resting at home when he got a phone call. His brother, Brad, who was also a pitcher in the major league, had taken a line-drive off his head. He had thrown a pitch at 92 mph and the line drive back at his head was 120 mph.
“The one thing we all loved so much was baseball, but it could be the very thing that takes Brad’s life,” said Brian.
Brad ended up being fine and is now a coach with the Texas Rangers organization.
“When he was at the hospital with blood pouring out of his nose he said he thought ‘Am I going to die?’” said Brian. “Then he wondered if he was going to heaven and then if his family would know that he is in heaven.
“Line drives in life are going to come. Our time here is limited, it’s fragile and it is temporary. You don’t go to heaven just because you are a major league baseball player, you go to heaven through Christ,” said Holman. “That near no-hitter was a sad day, but the saddest day is when a person goes to heaven but God says ‘depart from me for I never knew you.’”
Brian Holman’s story is one of faith, perseverance, humility and perception. Life is short and often people, all of us are guilty, fail to put matters or “problems” into perspective. Also we can fail to recognize that life is always changing and we should cherish every day we have on this earth because how we live here could very well determine our ultimate destiny at the pearly gates.
To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.