Image credit: Clint Hollon (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)
Clinton Hollon has never known what it feels like to fail on a baseball mound. He was a high school star, high draft pick and carries an affiliated minor league career ERA of 3.32.
Unfortunately for Hollon, talent has never been the problem.
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“I have taken the game of baseball away from me more than anyone else has,” said Hollon.
Growing up in Kentucky, Hollon was nothing short of a prodigy. He knew he was good from the get-go.
“I actually started playing high school ball in seventh grade,” said Hollon. “I can remember feeling like I knew in T-ball.”
Hollon hit 91 as a freshman and led Woodford County High School to the 2012 state title. While he committed to Kentucky, Hollon knew early on he wasn’t destined for campus, as he didn’t even bother to handle his NCAA Clearinghouse compliance.
The Blue Jays took him in the second round of the 2013 draft, but concerns about makeup and an elbow injury led to him signing for a well-under slot $467,280. Hollon arrived in pro ball with all the talent in the world, but unbeknownst to him was walking into a buzzsaw.
“Everything to me was just very natural. I did do workouts and had some training and stuff like that, but it wasn’t a day in and day out grind—which is why I ultimately became unsuccessful in pro ball, because I was not mature enough and ready for that,” said Hollon. “I was not prepared at all.”
The Jays sent Hollon out to the GCL, and he responded with 12 shutout innings to open his career. It was the last time he’d have momentum in affiliated baseball.
“I go home, and that first offseason I don’t touch a baseball until that next spring training,” said Hollon. “I bought an El Camino and (was) smoking pot and doing dumb stuff. The next year I go down there and I’m out of shape, and there’s just a difference in the mood around me, and I can feel it.”
His poor shape led to his previous elbow injury degrading, leading to Tommy John surgery that wiped out his 2014 season—and jumpstarted an addiction to painkillers. Hollon returned to the field in 2015 with a healed elbow but a personal life that was spiraling out of control, leading to Toronto suspending him in 2015 and again in 2016 after multiple failed drug tests.
“They called me in there, and I already knew what it was, I’d been using that morning,” said Hollon. “At that point I was doing 15-20 Percocet 30s a day.”
The organization hung onto Hollon until 2017, continuing to send him to treatment programs, but nothing took. Hollon was done with baseball, and not interested in turning his life around.
“At that point I never saw myself touching a baseball again,” said Hollon.
Following his release, Hollon slid into a full-blown heroin addiction. He spent his days solely focused on his next high, more likely to overdose than to clock into a job.
“I abandoned my role as a father, abandoned my family, everything. Nobody knew if I was alive or dead,” said Hollon. “A terrible person.”
His journey back from the depths of hell started after overdosing in his bathroom with his young son in the next room, which began a slow and steady process of kicking his heroin addiction. Hollon reduced his usage until kicking the heroin for good in 2020, but still struggled with alcohol. In 2021, he pulled himself together enough to attempt a comeback with Gateway in the Frontier League. Glimpses of his past self and mid-90s fastball still appeared, but alcoholism held Hollon back from sustaining performance for a long period of time. He continued to struggle until late 2023, until hitting yet another breaking point, and the one he hopes to be his final sign to change.
“I just got tired of not remembering hurting people,” said Hollon. “And having to apologize for sh*t I didn’t remember (…) It’s taken until very recently for me to have the desire to live life (…) “It’s been very slow, and very gradual.”
Hollon has been fully sober since 2023—just over two months at the time of this writing. For the first time in years, he’s working and training his body with the hope of one more shot at playing professional baseball. He hopes to have one more chance at salvaging his career and being able to look back on his time in baseball with pride instead of regret. And while he understands that any professional team would rightfully be skeptical of signing him after nearly a decade of substance abuse and so soon into his life of sobriety, he’s hoping at least one team will bet on his talent.
“I couldn’t give you a great reason to, other than you’d be getting more than you think,” said Hollon.
On the latest episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm,’ former Blue Jays farmhand Clinton Hollon joins to discuss going from second-round pick to life as a drug addict, and how he’s working his way back to life and baseball.