Low Class A Report

Baseball education helps Holmberg thrive





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GREENSBORO, N.C.—There is an African proverb made famous by Hillary Clinton that says it takes a village to raise a child. It's doubtful the author of this proverb had baseball in mind, but it was a baseball village that raised the Brewers' Kenny Holmberg.

The son of Dennis Holmberg, a coach and manager in the Blue Jays system for the past quarter century, Kenny has created the foundation for a successful pro career based on the type of nuances that one can only gain from spending one's entire life on or around the diamond. After the Brewers selected him in the 22nd round last season out of Embry-Riddle (Fla.), Holmberg hit .372-12-51 while leading Rookie-level Helena to a Pioneer League title. In his first 38 at-bats for West Virginia, the second baseman was hitting .316-2-5. The stats are loud, but Kenny is far from the prospect his numbers would suggest.

"When we signed him, we didn't have high numbers on him, none of us," said Charles Aliano, the scout who signed him. "But we all saw something special in the kid. He is a magical-type kid. . . Because he is a winner, you can add points to this guy's (overall future performance score)."

As a two-year-old in 1985, Kenny sat in the backseat of a car with his sister Brianne that was broadsided as it exited their apartment complex in Liverpool, N.Y. The children emerged unscathed, but their mother Diane who was driving did not. She suffered a brain injury that has left her in a vegetative state to this day. Dennis, who was coaching with Syracuse in the Blue Jays system at the time was left to raise the children on his own.

The family found a facility for Diane in Bradenton, Fla., near the Blue Jays facility in Dunedin and Dennis relocated the family their full time and served as a coach and manager for their Florida State League club. It was there that Kenny would begin his baseball education.

"He has learned from the core, all those fundamentals," said Dennis, who also played in the Brewers system. "For a player like Kenny who has to be a hustler, a battler, a grinder an overachiever, the knowledge of the game and the instincts of the game become paramount."

Days At The Park

Kenny began accompanying his father to the park as a toddler and as he got older, he would gradually become a bigger part of the team's daily routine.

"When you are five or six years old and your mom is in the hospital, she has been in a car accident. You think, 'maybe she'll come home one day. But for now, I am just going to go to the ballpark,' " Kenny said.

Not surprisingly, Kenny grew extremely close to his father during this time and if there is one silver lining to his mother's accident, it's that it brought Kenny closer to the game he loves so much at an early age.

When not following his father around, Kenny was hanging out with players, shagging flies and ingesting every available piece of baseball knowledge from the slew of big leaguers that came through Dunedin, like Jeff Kent, Carlos Delgado and Ryan Freel.

This unique baseball education helped Kenny turn into a formidable player. He played on a Dunedin High team with Cubs prospects Ryan Harvey and Brian Dopirak. A 49th-round pick of the Blue Jays out of high school, Kenny spent two years at St. Petersburg Junior College and two years at Embry-Riddle before signing with the Brewers. All the while he did his best to share his wealth of baseball knowledge with his teammates and has always been the de facto coach on the field.

"His game instincts and his coachability are 90 on an 80 scale," Aliano said.

Having not been blessed with fantastic tools, Kenny realizes those instincts and knowledge will be key to his advancement.

"Look at me, I am 5-foot-nothing, maybe 180 pounds. I can't run. Everything is just fringy with me," Kenny said. "Some guys might get fed up with me saying, you got to be here, you got to do that, but I don't know any better."

Newfound Perspective

While trying to battle his way up the minor league ladder, Kenny has come to grips with his mother's condition, as she now sits in a facility in Norwalk, Conn. He tries to use her situation as inspiration.

"You can't take stuff for granted," Holmberg said. "You should be happy every day that you wake up and for me, personally, I am happy that I have the job that I have. That I get to come to the ballpark and do what I have wanted to do ever since I was five-years-old.

Kenny has much to do before he reaches the big leagues, and just like it is for every other minor leaguer, the odds are not in his favor. But what he has overcome and what he has learned from a lifetime of baseball will always give him an intangible edge against almost anyone.

"There are two types of ballplayers in this game, one who is humble and one who is fixing to be humble," said Dennis, who talks to Kenny every night. "And it is very important that he maintains that perspective."



MIDWEST HARVEST

• Cedar Rapids engineered the fourth triple play in franchise history during a 7-2 victory against Wisconsin on April 13. That was the score in the bottom of the sixth when Timber Rattlers center fielder Mike Saunders led off with an infield single. DH Bryan Sabatella followed with a walk. First baseman Jeff Flaig then smoked a liner toward Kernels shortstop Hainley Statia. He gloved the ball cleanly, but it was ruled a trap, so he tagged Saunders on his way to third and flipped the ball to second baseman Ryan Leahy, who pivoted and fired to first baseman Dallas Morris to complete the triple play.

• Cedar Rapids righthander Nick Adenhart was also making news. The 2004 14th-rounder, who missed that season due to Tommy John surgery, is off to an auspicious start in his full-season debut. Through three starts, the 19-year-old was 2-0, 1.93 with 19 strikeouts in 19 innings. Considered one of the top high school pitchers in the 2004 draft class, Adenhart's stock collapsed when he injured his elbow. He appeared headed to North Carolina until the Angels offered him $710,000 to sign.

• Once considered a possible first-rounder out of high school, Michael Hollimon had a rocky college career, but he is finally fulfilling his promise. The Tigers selected him in the 16th round last June and after a strong debut in the short-season New York-Penn League, he reached base safely in his first 10 games and was hitting .378-1-4.

• Considered to have the best raw tools in the Blue Jays system, outfielder Yuber Rodriguez is showing of signs of finally making use of them. It is his second time through the MWL, but in 34 at-bats he was hitting .382-0-4 with two triples and four stolen bases without being caught.

SALLYMANDERS

Gaby Sanchez was off to an outrageous start for Greensboro. The first baseman/catcher had seven home runs in his first 11 games, including a streak of four straight games with a homer. This was on the heels of leading the NYPL in hitting with a .355 average in his pro debut last summer.

"He is really short to the ball and it is an aggressive swing, " manager Brandon Hyde said. "I don't think he goes up thinking home run. I think he goes up thinking, 'I am going to hit a line drive in the gap and take a quality AB.' When he gets the barrel to the ball, the ball is going to jump.' "

• Things were not going quite as well for the Phillies Greg Golson. A first-rounder in 2004, Golson was asked to repeat the SAL because he missed a lot of time in 2005 due to injury. His second swing at the Sally League is going worse than the first. The outfielder had just three hits in his first 35 at-bats with zero extra-base hits, 11 strikeouts and one walk. Since he's still 20-years-old, there is certainly time for him to figure things out.

• Signed as a nondrafted free agent last June out of Mississippi State, Alan Johnson is showing the ability to make people miss. Through three starts for Asheville the righthander had 24 strikeouts in 17 innings while going 2-0, 2.65. More impressively, he had yet to walk a batter.

• With $1.4 million comes a lot of expectation, but thus far the Mets Fernando Martinez is meeting them. Through his first 12 professioinal games, the 17-year-old Dominican, who signed last summer, was hitting .347-1-8 with five doubles and two triples for Hagerstown. His eight extra-base hits were tied for third-best in the SAL. The lefthanded hitter has shown the ability to use the entire field and has walked four times with six strikeouts. Currently playing center field, his future could be in right if he fills out as expected because he possesses an above-average arm.

Compiled by Matt Meyers