High School Sports

They’re 20 years apart and battling cancer. The Coast’s favorite Yankee is joining their fight.

Jonathan Holder tosses baseball with Ethan Saucier at Gulfport Admirals baseball field. Along with other baseball players, Holder is hosting a youth baseball clinic Saturday at St. Patrick with the proceeds going to two local youths who are currently battling cancer.
Jonathan Holder tosses baseball with Ethan Saucier at Gulfport Admirals baseball field. Along with other baseball players, Holder is hosting a youth baseball clinic Saturday at St. Patrick with the proceeds going to two local youths who are currently battling cancer. ttisbell@sunherald.com file

To Sumner Holland, he’s simply “Mr. Jonathan.” To Hope Broadus, he’s her compassionate cousin and fellow Mississippi State Bulldog.

Sumner doesn’t quite comprehend that his new fishing buddy — the one he throws bread to ducks with at the family pond — is a New York Yankee. That Jonathan Holder paid his dues in the minors and climbed the ladder to don baseball’s most sacred of uniforms matters not to the 2-year-old; all that really matters is the bread and the laughs they share.

As he gets older, Sumner will come to appreciate what this Saturday means to his family as Holder, along with several other professional and collegiate baseball players, are hosting a youth baseball clinic at St. Patrick Catholic High School in Biloxi. Holder said 100 percent of the proceeds from the event will be split between Sumner, who’s currently battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and the 22-year-old Broadus, who’s battling glioblastoma. The cost is $100 per camper with registration beginning at 8 a.m.

‘Sumner Strong’

Holder and Sumner forged a friendship during the summer when the Yankees pitcher was home on the Coast during the MLB’s all-star break. His wife, Nicole, brought Sumner and his 4-year-old sister Isla over to the family’s home one evening, the two hit it off and have been pals ever since.

“That’s really what got the bond kind of started,” Sumner’s dad, Drew Holland, said Monday. “She’d bring them over to their house and they’d go fishing with Jonathan and them. They have a pond out there and love throwing the bread (to the ducks).”

Broadus babysat Sumner and his sister the previous two summers and Nicole Holder has pitched in to help multiple times a week.

After Sumner’s diagnosis in October, Holland said Broadus and the Holders have helped give Sumner an important sense of normalcy despite weekly visits to Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson for treatment.

“The hardest thing for us is Sumner loved going to school so much. One day that was it and he was constantly asking about it. We’re not supposed to have him around other kids and that kind of thing, so it’s been really nice (visiting Broadus and the Holders),” Holland said. “He hasn’t really missed a beat. His happiness level is the same and I think that’s because of the time Nicole and Jonathan and Hope and friends spend with him.”

Holland said when he was approached about the camp, he and his wife, Leah, were both taken aback. The outpouring of support has been “incredible,” and this is just the latest instance of the community helping where possible.

“We’re overwhelmed. That’s an amazing thing to have a professional baseball player wanting to do something to help our 2-year-old,” he said. “I’m sure he’s busy with training and working out on his own. He’s even been throwing with my younger brother, Peter (Holland), who plays at Meridian Community College, so I know he’s been training.

“When I first heard he was going to do it and get other people involved, it was just overwhelming and humbling, really.”

Holland expects his son to make an appearance at some point Saturday, whether it’s to receive tips for a future baseball career or to just run around and be a 2-year-old kid.

“I’m not so much worried about the velocity right now as I am with trying to get him to use that left hand,” Holland joked.

‘Hope for Hope’

A standout golfer and state champion at St. Patrick, Stephen Broadus said his daughter is his family’s health conscience. She had just graduated from Mississippi State in May and was attending classes at William Carey on the Coast with the intention of becoming a pediatric nurse when she suffered a seizure in September without exhibiting any previous symptoms.

After discovering the brain tumor, Stephen Broadus said his daughter underwent surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where they were able to successfully remove 98 percent of the tumor. She immediately began radiation and chemotherapy treatment at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and she has since been transferred to treatment locally in Gulfport.

Following her diagnosis, there has been an outpouring of support, from close family and friends and even people the family hasn’t talked to in nearly 30 years.

“We have just been overwhelmed and amazed with support from our church and school community,” Hope’s mother, Jennifer Broadus, said. “We’re extremely thankful.”

Like with Sumner, the proceeds raised from Saturday’s camp will help offset travel and medical expenses.

“We’re just excited and thankful that (Holder is) able to help out,” Jennifer Broadus said. “We’re grateful to everyone who has and will contribute to the fundraising campaign.”

Baseball camp

Holder will be joined at Saturday’s camp with a number of Coast connections in the baseball world, including former Biloxi High, Ole Miss and MiLB pitcher Hawtin Buchanan, St. Patrick alum and Meridian Community College pitcher Peter Holland, Vancleave products Tyler Bray and Stuart Holmes, who respectively play in the Toronto Blue Jays and St. Louis Cardinals organizations, among others. Former Gulfport and Mississippi State pitcher Myles Gentry, who’s now a coach at Jones County Junior College, will also be an instructor.

“We’ve been trying to figure out how we can donate and do our part to give back and this is the best way,” Holder said. “I just feel fortunate that my wife and I can help. Being a baseball player, I can have a baseball camp and have these kids come. They can donate their money and I can donate my time and we can raise money and awareness for Sumner and Hope.”

Getting to know Sumner and having a close relationship with Broadus has helped Holder in his own life.

“I think anybody can be motivated by them, just to never take life for granted,” he said. “It really motivates me to do my best every day and to work hard.”

Holder hopes Saturday’s campers take away a number of things from his clinic.

“I just hope the kids can come and take from us what it’s like to play professionally or in college. I want them to know how much hard work it takes. Hopefully they can all learn something about the game and how it can change your life,” he said. “It teaches you a lot about everything you go through in life, whether it’s dedication, relationships, business or responsibility.”

Those who want to donate can also visit Sumner and Broadus’ joint GoFundMe.com page.

Life as a Yankee

After making his big league debut in 2016, the former Gulfport High Admiral spent the majority of 2017 in the majors with the Yankees, compiling a 3.89 ERA with 40 strikeouts against eight walks in 39 1/3 innings with NYY.

“It was a fantastic season. I learned a lot and I’m excited to go back this year and get ready to work,” Holder said. “It was great (making it to MLB), a dream come true and something I’ve thought about since I was a kid. Happy to be there and ready to work hard again.”

He said he plans to report for spring training Feb. 1, when he’ll meet both his new manager, Aaron Boone, and the Yankees’ big offseason acquisition, slugger Giancarlo Stanton.

As one might imagine, reading about the Stanton trade as a player is just a bit different from taking it in as the average fan — for a number of reasons.

“(You) definitely read the names first to make sure you weren’t traded anywhere,” he said. “After that you’re just excited to meet him at camp and see batting practice with him and (Aaron) Judge.

“We might hit a few (home runs).”

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs

Baseball Fundraiser Camp

Location: St. Patrick Catholic High

When: 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday

Age: 9-17

Cost: $100 per child

More information: jonathan.holder.b@gmail.com