Bryan Holaday has had a pretty good year.
"Incredible," said Holaday. "This whole ride has been a dream come true for me, and I couldn't have it any other way. Maybe winning the World Series would have been nice, but I'm certainly proud of my team and what we accomplished."
Despite falling short of his college title dreams, Holaday didn't miss a beat.
Less than two weeks after UCLA knocked Holaday's Texas Christian team out of the CWS in the semifinal round, Holaday signed with the Tigers and was sent to Class A Advanced Lakeland to begin his professional career.
Just two days after signing, Holaday went 5-for-5 in his professional debut, scoring three runs and knocking in one in a 12-2 win over Clearwater.
"I don't know what got into me," said Holaday. "Everything that could go my way went my way. I hit a couple of balls hard and a couple of balls I didn't hit so hard found holes. It was an unbelievable first day."
And he hasn't slowed down much since.
In just 21 games, Holaday's .467 OBP, .479 SLG and .947 OPS all lead the team, and would be among the tops in the league if he had enough at-bats to qualify, which he should by season's end.
In July, Holaday joined a Flying Tiger team that was reeling. After coming within just a half-game of eventual first-half division-winner Dunedin, the club's top three hitters, Rawley Bishop, Alden Carrithers and Kody Kaiser, were all promoted to Double-A Erie, leaving a contending team searching for offense.
The Flying Tigers eventually slid out of first-half title contention, finishing a disappointing four games back.
Before Holaday's arrival, the Flying Tigers continued to struggle, starting the second half 3-10 and in the Florida State League North Division basement.
Since Holaday's debut, the team is 14-11 and slowly climbing back up the FLS North standings.
"He plays the game right," hitting coach Larry Herndon said. " He goes about that game right. I'm just glad we got him."
And there were several reasons the Tigers decided to spend a sixth-round pick on Holaday.
At TCU, he played 68 games for the Horned Frogs, batting .355 with 24 doubles to go with 17 home runs and 53 RBI, a solid balance of power and average the Flying Tigers lost when their three stars left for Double-A a month earlier.
"He hits for power, but he uses the whole field," said Herndon. "He hits line drives. He's well ahead of a first-year drafted player in the fact that he can use the whole field and take what a pitcher gives him."
Defensively, Holaday guided a TCU staff that posted a 3.55 ERA. He threw out 23 of 50 runners trying to steal and posted a .988 fielding percentage on his way to winning the Johnny Bench Award, which is his favorite among his many collegiate accolades.
"I take the most pride in that," said Holaday. "It's the most prestigious award that any college catcher can get, and that means a lot to me. It's not just an offensive award, it's a defensive award, and I take a lot of pride in my defense and my ability behind the plate. I had a really great year, and I'm really proud to call myself a Johnny Bench Award winner."
He also has a reputation of being a gamer, a hard worker and a great teammate.
"You take him off our team, and we're not even close to being the same club," TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle told ESPN's Josh Davis back in March. "He brings so much to the table other than just his numbers that I think he's deserving of being the MVP."
"That's something I take a lot of pride in as well," said Holaday. "Intangible things like finishing out plays, because whether it makes a difference or not, it really helps pitchers when you backup a play at first and then you hustle back to home plate. It helps them get their rhythm, and if I can keep the pitchers in their rhythm, they're going to have more success.
"And I think running the bases and all that stuff is just as important as offense and defense. If I can run the bases well and I can get an extra couple of runs by doing that, I can help us win a couple of more games."
Coach Herndon echoed Schlossnagle's sentiment on the fiery catcher.
"He's a true baseball player," said Herndon. "He hustles, he gives it all, and he's just refreshing to see. When I say baseball player—he just goes and plays the game, really, like you want it played."
Holaday attributes his approach to the game to his upbringing by his parents, Frank and Laura, and a competitive nature developed with his older brother, Bobby.
"It's the way I've always grown up." he said. "My parents always pushed me in everything I did, and I had an older brother that I always wanted to be just like, so I had to work really hard to try to fill in his footsteps. I always tried to be just like him, and he pushed me every step of the way.
"I still talk to him every day, and he still reminds me that he still has to go sit in an office every day. It just kind of reminds me that just being out here is a blessing. Not a lot of people get to do this, and I'm just having a ton of fun every day I get to come out here and go to work."
The transition to the professional game, however, has not come without adjustments.
"I've really had to work on my patience at the plate and my discipline," said Holaday. "Because here, there's a lot of guys out here with some really good stuff, but some of them don't have the best command, so it's really taken a lot to be patient with my pitches. Sometimes I get a little too patient and get myself in a hole, so trying to find that medium has been tough."
"The good pitchers don't give him trouble," said Herndon. "I mean, he can hit just about anybody because he's using the whole field well, and he adjusts well to breaking balls.
"The young man has a bright future."
Recently, Holaday showed the clutch element of that bright future. Trailing 6-1 in the seventh inning against the visiting Bradenton Marauders, Holaday belted a grand slam to spark a six-run inning that gave the Flying Tigers a 7-6 lead they would not relinquish.
Just another day at the office for Holaday.
He spends some time before home games on the first base line near the clubhouse talking to fans and signing autographs, often walking to the dugout sporting a big smile and a look bordering disbelief over the opportunity he has as a young professional ballplayer.
On his Facebook page, under likes and interests, he lists only two activities: Fire Ballin, Livin the Dream.
"This is my office," he said, "and it's just incredible. I can get up, come lift weights and hit and do everything I love, and it's just fun that not a lot of people never get to experience.
"I just hope it never ends."