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Originally published Monday, June 20, 2011 at 10:01 PM

Steve Kelley

David Holman — like his father Brian and uncle Brad — joins the Mariners family

David Holman, whose father Brian Holman pitched for the Mariners, was signed by the team after his junior season at Emporia State University. He's in Arizona, where he will pitch for the Mariners' rookie league team.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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On his 11th birthday, shortly before he was to undergo brain surgery, David Holman played a Little League game in Ellensburg.

That day, 10 years ago, he was in the midst of fighting what he must have thought was some demon force.

And, on a day that should have been celebrated, he struggled in every phase of the game, striking out a few times, allowing a few too many walks, making a couple of errors.

His team lost and David was playing as if he were carrying the weight of the entire Holman family. In the back seat of the car on the way home, he quietly cried.

His father, former Mariners pitcher Brian Holman, thought his son was wrestling with the results of a rough day at the ballpark. "Don't worry, son. You just had a bad day," Brian said. "I had bad games, too. It'll be OK. You'll go on."

But when Brian was through with the pep talk, David asked him, "What if this is my last birthday?"

"At moments like that, you realize that baseball and all the things you think are important, they don't matter," Brian said by phone Monday. "What do you say to your 11-year-old son when he asks you that question?"

David Holman's story is one that should make us feel more optimistic about life and about people. The way he is living his life should be instructive to all of us.

He is a kid who always dreamed of following the same career path as his father and his uncle Brad. He wanted to become a big-league pitcher.

In the pursuit of that dream, however, he has endured more adversity and overcome so much heartbreak that sometimes the dream has felt bigger than his life, some unreachable star.

But last week, after completing his junior season at Division II Emporia State University, David Holman, 21, signed a free-agent contract with the Mariners. He has reported to Peoria, Ariz., where he will start his pro career, pitching with the Mariners' rookie league team in the Arizona League.

"I'm a lucky kid," David Holman said this weekend from Peoria. "God gave me a second chance and I want to make the most of it. I feel like I'm a survivor in a way."

You have to understand David's back story to appreciate his resilience and to know how dramatic his journey to pro ball has been.

When he was 8 years old, Holman fell 31 feet from a Snoqualmie Pass chair lift and suffered a concussion, broke his femur and wrist, and lacerated his kidney and liver.

Then, during a routine MRI, doctors discovered a slow-growing, benign tumor in the right frontal lobe of his brain. They waited three years until the tumor grew so large it had to be removed.

"I was a scared, young kid," David said. "Brain surgery? That's scary."

Two days before surgery, after he was told he would have to shave his head, David went into the Mariners' clubhouse and was given a preparatory buzz cut by Jay Buhner.

"To go into Safeco Field and have one of the all-time Mariner greats, Jay Buhner, shave my head, he helped me mentally prepare for a very difficult time in my life," David said. "He was laughing and having a good time and the fact that he wanted to share that moment with me, well he's just a great man."

With Edgar Martinez and manager Lou Piniella among the Mariners watching, Buhner shaved a strip down the middle of David's head and joked, "Why don't we just leave it like that?"

"Those guys knew how hard this was," Brian Holman said. "They knew that David was very brave and these guys just said, 'This is a hard thing and we're going to make it as joyful as we can.' "

When he awoke after surgery, David was partially paralyzed.

"Dad, I can't move my left side," David said to Brian. "How am I supposed to play baseball this way?"

Slowly, through painful hours, days, months of rehabilitation, David Holman put himself back together and began rebooting himself into a baseball player.

"He's one of my heroes," Brian said. "This little boy just never quit. He would go to rehab. He would never complain. He just kept fighting and battling. As a young kid, he missed almost three years of development time, coming back from the injuries and the brain tumor and the complications.

"To see him battle the way he did and never quit, no matter how hard things got, to watch him keep going is just a tremendous inspiration to me and to the rest of his family."

While David was recovering, his courageous sister, Kassidy, was undergoing chemotherapy treatments for leukemia, a disease that eventually would take her life. At that same time, Brian was diagnosed with a leaking mitral valve and underwent open-heart surgery.

Perseverance is an intrinsic part of being a Holman.

"The adversity has made me a better person in a way," David said. "I went through all that stuff when I was younger and almost died right there on that mountain when I fell off that chair lift.

"So whenever I am having a bad game or a bad day, I can always look back and think, 'This is nothing. I've been through brain surgery. I've been through times when I almost died.' It just helps me get through the tough situations that life deals out daily."

"What makes me proudest is that with all that kid has gone through, a lot of kids would have quit a long time ago," said Brian, a financial adviser for Ronald Blue and Co., who lives outside Wichita, Kan.

Last winter, David practically lived in the weight room and put on more than 30 pounds of muscle. At 6 feet 6 and 215 pounds, he has grown into his body.

"My dad's always told me that some day it's just going to click," David said, "and I think it's just starting to click. You start to realize, not to sound cocky in a way, but I'm better than 90 percent of the kids who play this game. Not many kids have the opportunity to do this and I'm just starting to realize that I'm blessed and I'm going to make the most of this."

He's a right-handed sinker ball pitcher in the mold of Milwaukee's Shaun Marcum.

"I've always believed he was going to be special, even in the worst times," Brian said. "And in the next couple of years, I think you're going to see a kid who's going to be able to take all of that junk that he's had to deal with and take his athletic ability and mold it in a professional system."

David was drafted in each of the past three seasons before signing this year as an undrafted free agent. It's only right that he signed with the Mariners.

Brian pitched for the team from 1989 through 1991. Brad pitched for Seattle in 1993. David used to run around the Kingdome clubhouse in diapers. Brian still has a picture of a grinning Ken Griffey Jr. holding David in diapers.

"I've always loved the Mariners' organization," David said. "They've been great to me and my family. And to sign with them is just a cool deal."

He has overcome a conspiracy of consequences and now David Holman is part of the Mariners' family.

It's the coolest deal.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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