Big league baseball pitcher Brian Holman used to think Christian athletes were sissies.
“Oh, I just got a home run, it must have been God’s grace,” Holman mimicked in front of more than 700 Whitworth College students Monday.
“I thought they were all wimps.”
Then Holman was born again. He and several other major league baseball players have started a unique mission to the Dominican Republic.
Their charity, Esperanza, which is Spanish for hope, loans money to the poorest women so they can start their own businesses.
Holman, 32, detailed his life journey - from “Kansas redneck” to the big leagues, to Latin American missionary - as part of Whitworth’s lecture series required of all undergraduate students.
At the end of the 45-minute speech, students lined up to talk to Holman.
“Usually no one pays attention at these things, everyone is doing homework,” said 18-year-old James Sullivan of the mandatory lectures. “It seemed like everyone listened today.”
The son of an alcoholic, Holman was himself drinking and doing hard drugs by the time he graduated from high school. He described his God-given gift as the ability to throw a baseball 96 mph.
“The problem was I had no idea where it was going,” he joked.
He was 19 when he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds and attended spring training.
The first batter he faced was Pete Rose. Holman’s pitch headed right for Rose’s head, forcing the legend to dive into the dirt.
Then Holman did it again.
“Needless to say, I did not make it to the big leagues in a week,” he said.
He joined the Montreal Expos in 1988.
“I had it all - fame, fortune. I got my face on a baseball card,” he said. “It didn’t get any better than that.”
But his marriage was a wreck. When making it big didn’t improve the relationship, he and his wife began talking about getting a divorce.
That never happened.
Two weeks before the season ended, while he was on a road trip, his wife became a born-again Christian with guidance from another player’s wife.
“When I came back, I saw in her eyes that she was a new creation,” he said. “And I thought, this is it, you’ve finally gone crazy.”
Holman described a contentious moment, during one of his wife’s Bible-study sessions, when he challenged her beliefs. It was Oct. 31, 1988.
The discussion ended with Holman on his knees praying to God.
Six months later, he was traded to the Seattle Mariners.
“I used to drive a pickup with a shotgun on the rack. Now I own a boat and love Starbucks coffee,” he said of his second conversion.
A surgeon reconstructed Holman’s shoulder in 1991, but the hoped-for comeback fell short. He retired in 1994.
Hearing of Holman’s retirement, former Mariners catcher Dave Valle asked him to join the fledgling charity. Valle had made the vow to help poor children after his first season playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic.
Just like the United States, as Valle emerged from the stadium after a game, children clamored around him. Only in the Dominican Republic the children were begging for food, not autographs.
“The reason we loan the money to women is they are the ones who nurture the family,” Holman said. Mothers funnel more of their income into food, medicine and education for children, he said.
Each loan is for $100. One woman bought a freezer to store slaughtered chickens. Another opened a hair salon.
So far, no one has defaulted on more than $146,000 in loans, Holman said.
Other active baseball players, including the Mariners’ Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez and Dan Wilson, are now major contributors to the Bellevue-based charity.
Holman ended his talk to the Whitworth crowd with a prayer, encouraging the students to know their faith and study the Bible.
“Line drives are going to come in your life,” he said. “You need to instantly know what’s false. You guys can change the world.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
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