Holdzkom aiming to ride MLB wave again
The bright lights of St Louis’ Busch Stadium shone on John Holdzkom.
Yet to toe the rubber in Major League Baseball, the New Zealand Diamondblacks pitcher made the long walk from the bullpen to pitch the eighth inning with his Pittsburgh Pirates trailing the St Louis Cardinals 6-4 on September 2, 2014.
To even the most dedicated Pirates fan, his lanky 2.10m frame was unfamiliar. Only six months earlier, he was playing independent ball, not affiliated with any team in the majors.
But in striking out the first three batters he faced in his MLB career, including 2014 All-Star Matt Carpenter, his legend was born. A month after his debut, he was the star of the Pirates bullpen and a big reason why the Pittsburgh team were able to clinch a spot in the playoffs. As Californian Holdzkom said in an interview immediately after his team secured a playoff berth, he was riding the wave.
But every wave eventually crashes, and Holdzkom’s closed out quickly.
In 2015, shoulder injuries kept him on the sidelines and, while working on his rehabilitation, he got the news that brother Lincoln had been killed in a car crash. Then in 2016, still suffering from injuries, he was released by the Pirates and signed a low-level deal with the Chicago White Sox. He made just one appearance in the minor league before injuries flared and his was released a second time.
“There was definitely a year or two there where the foundation was rattled a little bit,” Holdzkom told the Herald on Sunday. “Interest wanes real quick when you’re on the [disabled list].
For the two years following, Holdzkom worked on getting his body right. He hadn’t played another game of professional baseball since 2016 when he got a call about joining the Auckland Tuatara for their debut season in the Australian Baseball League.
It’s a particularly special opportunity for the 30-year-old, who has seen the sport develop in New Zealand the past six years.
He knew there was answer he could give.
“You never know when is going to be the last time you play, so the fact I got this call, I felt like it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down,” he says.
“Now I’m in a good place and ready to give it another go, thanks to my wife supporting me through this.”
Holdzkom made his debut for the Tuatara this weekend in the first game of the team’s series against the Sydney Blue Sox.
Although he has just made his return to professional baseball, the 31-year-old hasn’t given up the MLB dream.
He hasn’t been in contact with any franchises since being released by the White Sox but remains hopeful of showing he’s still an asset. ● The Tuatara were outplayed in the first three games of the series against the Sydney Blue Sox, losing 9-1 on Friday, 7-1 yesterday in the first game of their doubleheader, and 5-1 in the second. only one