Five pitches are sometimes barely enough to record an out in baseball. But that was all Southern coach Roger Cador needed to see.
Jesse “Doc” Holiday, then a high school senior, had made the trip to Baton Rouge from his hometown of Sugar Land, Texas, and was just getting warmed up in his bullpen session when Cador approached him with a question.
“I threw five pitches, and he asked me, ‘Why are you here? Why are you here? There must be something,’ ” Holiday recalled.
There certainly was.
The former Kempner High School standout wasn’t getting too many looks from college scouts. He decided to visit Southern’s campus to see what might come of it. It didn’t take long for both parties to realize it was a match.
“I came down to visit Southern and immediately fell in love with the school,” said Holiday, who also played first base and outfield in high school. “When I met (Cador), I couldn’t stop smiling. He’s a great guy. He told me straight up what I needed to do, how I needed to get better and what he could help me with.”
Cador had never seen Holiday pitch in high school but need just five tosses to know the left-hander could be something special. Less than one year later, Holiday posted a perfect 5-0 record in 13 appearances (four starts) as a freshman.
By his sophomore season, Holiday had worked his way into the full-time starting rotation, leading the team with 12 starts and a 6-2 overall record while holding a 5.69 ERA.
“That kid has been a producer ever since he’s been a freshman,” said Cador, who added that he “never” expected Holiday to have that kind of impact his first two seasons on campus. “He kept getting stronger and putting on weight and getting better.
“Last year, coach (Fernando) Puebla was surprised when I said ‘Doc’ is going to be our No. 1 pitcher. I said I was quite comfortable. When I’m comfortable, I’m sure. I told him I like his demeanor, I like his attitude.”
Holiday’s attitude, as well as his arm — he has struck out 180 batters so far in his collegiate career — earned him clubhouse nickname, which has grown to become one of Cador’s favorites throughout the years.
“I gave him the nickname Doc Holiday based upon the fact that he is Holiday, and I remember the gunslinger named Doc Holiday at the OK Corral,” Cador said, still chuckling at his ingenuity. “He’s always Doc. That’s all he hears. He would never hear me call him anything else other than Doc. He’s lost whatever the given name his mother gave him because of me. He is Doc Holiday until the day I die or he dies.”
Holiday has embraced the moniker since Day 1. And with a demanding label like ‘Doc,’ it’s only ironically fitting that a medical setback would be Holiday’s biggest obstacle off the diamond.
Holiday suffers from dyslexia, a learning disability that impairs a person’s reading fluency or comprehension. He never denied that the issue caused struggles in the classroom at times, but Holiday was committed to making sure the problem never spilled over onto the mound.
“It was something I was a little embarrassed about,” said Holiday. “It’s really hard. I’ve really got to go to the teachers and make sure I’m on top of my grades. I just mainly try to stay focused.”
Holiday never told his coach about the disability, but word eventually made its way to Cador, who began using Holiday as an inspiration for himself.
“That is precious for a guy not looking for any excuse,” Cador said. “This guy is so beautiful you can’t believe it. He’s the perfect kid. I don’t know if his mom and dad know how fortunate they are to have a son as precious as Doc Holiday. This young man gets it. He gets it.”
Luckily for Southern, Holiday’s hindrance doesn’t affect the way he reads batters.
The Jaguars ace has compiled a 3-1 record in five starts this season with a 3.73 ERA. He’s been Southern’s go-to starter from Opening Day. Saturday will be no different when Southern continue Southwestern Athletic Conference play on the road against Prairie View.
The Panthers (12-8, 6-2) are the only team ahead of the Jaguars (9-9, 5-4) in the SWAC Western Division standings. The schools will begin the series with a doubleheader Saturday followed by the series finale Sunday afternoon.
Jonathan Mata (2-1) is set to take the mound for Prairie View in the noon opener, with Stef Hernandez slated to start the second half of the doubleheader. Michael Medina is the Panthers’ probable Sunday starter.
Jose De Leon will get the nod in the second game for Southern, followed by Daniel Garcia in Sunday’s finale.