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Gulfport’s Jonathan Holder opens up about playing for New York Yankees

Gulfport’s Jonathan Holder signs an autograph for Becky Ainsworth. Holder spoke Friday at the Ohr-O'Keefe Our Love Affair with Baseball luncheon about his rise to the New York Yankees.
Gulfport’s Jonathan Holder signs an autograph for Becky Ainsworth. Holder spoke Friday at the Ohr-O'Keefe Our Love Affair with Baseball luncheon about his rise to the New York Yankees. Veto Roley/Special to the Sun Herald

After disappointment in Spring Training, former Gulfport High pitcher Jonathan Holder ended the season on the New York Yankees’ 40-man roster last month.

Holder told the Ohr-O’Keefe Our Love Affair with Baseball Friday there was something special about wearing the Yankees’ uniform.

“Putting on the pinstripes for the first time is special,” Holder said. “Those 30 days in New York were pretty special.”

Holder put together an excellent 2015 year for the Tampa Yankees, New York’s High-A Florida League team, going 7-5 in 18 starts and a 2.44 ERA. After starting the season strong, Holder expected to be playing for the Trenton Thunder, the Yankees AA team in the Eastern League.

However, Holder was sent back to Tampa to start 2016.

“I thought I pitched well enough to get AA,” he said.

As the Thunder’s closer, Holder dominated AA baseball. He went 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA, recording 10 saves in 11 opportunities despite being at Trenton for only two months. After being called up to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, Holder continued his hot hand, going 2-0 with a 0.89 ERA and six saves.

When Major League rosters expanded in September, Holder got the call from the Yankees.

“It was a wild, wild night,” he said. “I didn’t sleep at all that night.”

With the Yankees, Holder pitched in eight games. His first game came against Baltimore on the day of his call-up, recording a 5.40 ERA in eight-and-a-third innings.

Holder was not nervous against the Orioles on Sept. 2 because of the reaction from Yankee veterans.

“The guys were so welcoming,” he said.

But Holder found the mound at Camden Yards familiar.

“Once I got in the bullpen and started warming up, the nervousness went away,” he said. “When I got on the mound a little later, I felt like I had been there all my life. With every pitch you throw, you get a little more confident.”

Holder received advice from then-MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson, now the head coach at Auburn.

“He said a lot of guys get caught up with what pitches (fastball, curveball, etc.) they throw,” Holder said. “He told me that it’s not the pitch you throw, but how you throw it.”

Holder’s pre-game ritual helped dispel the nervousness. He starts each performance by reciting a prayer: “fear no evil”.

“It reminds me to fear nothing and to be aggressive,” he said.

Holder preferred being a reliever. As a sophomore at MSU, he tied the SEC record with 21 saves and set the Bulldogs career record with 37 saves.

“I enjoy relieving,” he said. “It takes a different mentality to be a reliever. When you come in the game is on the line and the adrenaline is flowing. You have to stay calm and make your pitches.”

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