Holdzkom aim­ing to ride MLB wave again

Herald on Sunday - - SPORT - Christo­pher Reive

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

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