Holliman enjoying early-career success

PEARL – Mark Holliman eased onto the Trustmark Park field a couple of hours before Monday night's Southern League All-Star Game. That he's an all-star at the AA level of pro baseball says a lot about just how fast his career seems to be moving, and in the right direction, too.

Just two years ago at this time, the right-hander from Germantown, Tenn., now playing for the Tennessee Smokies, wasn't signed to play baseball anywhere after three seasons with the Ole Miss Rebels.

The Cubs had drafted him for a second time, the first time out of high school, so they obviously wanted him. But he made them wait and didn't sign until late summer of 2005. The plan is obviously working out just fine for Holliman.

He entered the game in Pearl as one of the best starters in the Southern League. His ERA is 2.82 and he's pitched in 17 games, starting all 17. He no-hit Huntsville on June 19.

He's swung the bat pretty well at times, too, which is an aspect of the game he didn't have to do in college. He's hit two home runs this season.

Holliman, still just 23-years-old, doesn't know when he'll move up to AAA or even on to the big-league Cubs. But it's not something he gives a lot of thought to. What he focuses on is doing his best each and every day.

"The season's been great so far," said Holliman, who was only scheduled to pitch one inning in the all-star game, which he did in the second, throwing only seven pitches while recording three quick outs. "There've been some ups and downs, but you try to be consistent throughout the whole year. That's what I'm working for right now."

Still, being in AA baseball means he's getting closer to the major leagues, which is obviously his ultimate goal.

"That's what you work toward, to get to the big leagues," he said. "This is just another step in that journey."

It's a journey that didn't begin back in the summer of 2005. It began years ago as a youngster and later when he played for the Germantown High Red Devils and the Dulin's Dodgers summer organization in Memphis. It moved on through his Ole Miss years and the summer baseball leagues. Now he's becoming a seasoned pro, and he says he's learned a lot along the way already, some of it obviously having to do with pitching itself.

"A little bit has changed (since leaving Ole Miss)," he said. "Just mainly the location of my pitches and being able to throw them all for strikes. In college you can get away with throwing one or two of them for strikes. Now it's being able to mix four pitches in the zone for strikes and locating them in the zone. That's been the biggest change for me so far."

That, and adjusting to minor league baseball and all that it means.

"Just the day in and day out life, traveling from city to city, playing 140 games in a season, pitching every fifth day. It gets tough," he says in only his second full professional season. "If you're not used to that long of a season, it definitely starts to eat at you a little bit."

But he likes the path his career has taken to this point. He hopes to continue to move forward.

"It's definitely working out great for me so far," he said. "At the beginning (of his pro career), I never really sat down and said this is what I want to do to this point or where I want to be at a certain time. I just wanted to go out and work hard and just hope for the best. Hopefully I'd do well enough for them to move me up. I've been fortunate that they've put me on a fast track so far."

He says participating in the all-star game is special.

"It's exciting and fun to be here with all these guys," he said. "It's fun to meet the better players you play against. And accolades like this one always help your resume'.

A resume' that continues to grow as Holliman hopes to add to it until finally he reaches Wrigley Field. So far, it appears he's right on course.

And as for making headlines as a hitter, Holliman says the two home runs were nice. But don't expect him to become any type of all-star batter.

"I'm just closing my eyes and swinging," he said with a smile.

But a lot more eyes are opening as Mark Holliman continues to develop as one of the Cubs organization's best young pitchers.

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