Holliday talks about making it to the majors

BOSTON – One wall in the cramped visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park has room for five lockers, with nameplates today that sound like their own talent pipeline.

Cowser, Westburg, Rutschman, Holliday, Henderson.

High draft picks by the Orioles, including two first-overall selections and three top overall prospects in baseball. A sight that can't be classified as common.

Jackson Holliday arrived today after rushing to pack up his apartment in Norfolk, making the late-night drive to Richmond with wife Chloe, arriving around 1:30 a.m. and boarding a 6 a.m. flight to Boston. Kyle Stowers and wife Emma are babysitting their dog, Coconut.

“It’s been quite a day,” Holliday said, “but I wouldn’t change it for a second.”

Triple-A Norfolk manager Buck Britton called Holliday into his office after last night’s game and broke the news, the session videotaped and shared later on social media.

“He really drew it out, didn’t he?” Holliday said this afternoon in the Orioles dugout, his first media session drawing a huge crowd. “It was a really cool moment, and to be able to call my dad (Matt) and tell him to find his way to Boston was pretty cool.”

The Orioles gave Holliday the number 7, which was unofficially retired and last worn by Cal Ripken Sr. in 1992. Cal Ripken Jr. and brother Bill gave their blessing.

“It’s really cool for me to be able to wear that and to be able to share that with their family,” Holliday said. “To be able to represent them and wear that number, it’s really special to me."

The Orioles waited 10 games to select Holliday’s contract after a spring training reassignment that was met unfavorably by fans eager to watch him at Camden Yards. Their first chance is Friday night, and the club is giving away Holliday T-shirts to the first 15,000 fans 15 and over.

“Obviously, I was a little disappointed,” he said. “My goal was to make the team out of camp, but I understood why and I knew I had a job to do and I was able to do that. And I’m here.”

Holliday didn’t sulk. It isn’t in his baseball DNA. He put up impressive numbers against left-handers and right-handers and handled second base as if he played the position his entire life. There was no reason to keep him down any longer.

“I got a lot of at-bats because we scored a lot of runs, so able to get pretty comfortable,” he said. “I feel like my swing’s in a good spot. Put together a lot of good at-bats versus lefties, which I knew that was more of the purpose of being down there, and I felt comfortable. Just at-bats in games, and it doesn’t hurt to play.

“I’m excited. I got a taste (of the majors) a little bit during spring training. Obviously, it’s a little bit different now during the season, but I feel like I was able to hold my own and definitely looking forward to tonight.”

The entire family is at Fenway Park, including brother Ethan, sister Gracyn and Holliday’s grandfather.

“And I guess whoever else shows up,” he said, smiling again. “Who knows? People just seem to show up.”

To share his debut with Chloe, two months after they married, makes it more special.

“It’s been my goal and I’ve kind of dragged her along in it,” he said. “She’s the best and wouldn’t be able to do it without her.”

Asked about the best text that he received, Holliday said, “My dad showed me a text message from Michael Phelps, so that was kind of cool. That’s probably the coolest one. But I need to go through them all. I have not had time to do that. It’s been quite a day.”

Holliday’s left leg bounced throughout most of his 9 ½-minute interview. But he said he was only “a little bit” nervous and hadn’t consumed any caffeine. Maybe later. The experience, he said, should “get me through the day.”

“Not as nervous as I thought I would be,” he said. “I’m more excited. Kind of changed the mind frame from nervous to excitement. But yeah, really excited.”

Whatever butterflies are fluttering should disappear shortly after the game starts.

“After the first pitch, your first ground ball or however it is, I think I’ll be fine,” he said. “I’m just going to try to hit the fastball right back where it came from and go from there. It’s different, it’s a lot, and I feel like I’ve been born to handle that and to be here and play baseball for a long time.”

The goal was stated in his introductory press conference after being the first draft pick in 2022. Get to the majors in two years – right out of high school. After beginning his professional career at the low Single-A level.

“I just kind of said it whenever I did the interview,” he said. “I really enjoy watching guys like Bobby Witt and Adley. I knew they made it up to the big leagues pretty fast and I knew I would try to set myself on a similar path. That was my goal and if you give yourself goals, sometimes you reach them every now and then. Yeah, pretty crazy.”

Manager Brandon Hyde said an infield that used to have lots of moving parts is more set with Holliday at second base, Henderson at shortstop and Westburg at third base. That’s the alignment on most nights, at least for now.

Holliday said he’s much more comfortable at second base than when he first reported to camp.

“To be able to work with (Tony Mansolino) all spring training and then to be able to go play in however many games (10) I did in Triple-A, I definitely think that I’m better than I was for sure,” he said.

“I think that the double play feeds is probably most important, especially in the big leagues. You’ve got to be able to turn the double play. That’s something that we really focused on. The throw to first is kind of similar to shortstop. Just you’ve got more time.”

Cowser told Holliday that he wanted to go inside the famed Green Monster and sign his name. The kid beat him to it.

“I believe me and my brother did that whenever we were here a long time ago,” he said. “My dad lost a few World Series here. But other than that, I’ve got good memories.”

Holliday said his goodbyes to close friends Stowers, Heston Kjerstad, Coby Mayo and Connor Norby. He hopes to be reunited again soon, but not in the minors. 

“We have our little group chat and said, ‘One down, four to go,’ so we’re all rooting for each other,” Holliday said. “I can’t wait for them to all be in this clubhouse at some point.”

They’ll need a longer row of lockers.

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