March 27, 2004
Hometown: Terre Haute, IN
High School: Terre Haute North Vigo HS
When Blake Holler stepped onto Sunken Diamond last fall, he came equipped with many of the same types of accolades that most Stanford newcomers do. He was fresh off a 2003 summer tour with the USA Baseball Junior National Pan Am team, helping the squad to a silver medal finish. He was a three-time All-Vigo County selection and he had posted a 7-3 record with a 1.60 ERA and 102 strikeouts in just 62.0 innings in his senior year in high school.
But the Cardinal freshman may not have known what came next -- hitters with names like Jed Lowrie, John Mayberry, Jr. and Danny Putnam. Those are the types of players that Holler would have to prove himself against during fall practice if he hoped to earn many innings on the mound this season.
Holler struggled some early on during fall practice intra-squad games against those and other talented Cardinal hitters. Ironically, most of his struggles came with his control.
"I realized how much different the game is at this level in the first two intra-squad games of the fall," said Holler. "I was afraid of getting hit hard and was scared to throw strikes, and when I did I got hit hard. When you're facing our guys day in and day out, it's tough and you really have to be on your game."
Despite his early struggles, Holler learned some valuable lessons during those outings.
"I realized that you have to go out on the mound with the right mindset," said Holler. "You can't go in afraid of anything. You just have to say 'Here's what I have, let's see if you can hit it'."
Flash forward about six months and "Young Blood" (as he is known to his teammates) is showing everybody what he has - as a member of Stanford's starting rotation. He is even scheduled to move up one spot to the Saturday role for this weekend's series versus Cal Poly. He has been on his game with a 2-1 record and a 3.65 ERA in six appearances and four starts, striking out 19 batters in 24.2 innings.
Holler also has two saves, earning those when he came out of the bullpen and finished games during back-to-back promising appearances versus Cal State Fullerton and Fresno State.
Despite the impressive results in his first two outings, Holler did not get on the mound during the team's next series versus Kansas and didn't pitch in the first two games of the Texas series either.
But the Cardinal had yet to determine its starting pitcher for Sunday's contest versus the Longhorns and when Stanford head coach Mark Marquess informed Holler after a 9-6 loss on Saturday even the series that he was his choice to start the rubber game, Holler had to do a bit of a double take.
"I was just wondering if I was going to throw at all that weekend," recalls Holler. "When he told me that I was going to be the starter, I almost asked him again just to make sure that I had heard him right."
Holler's father, Jess, happened to be in town that weekend, and when the two drove out of the Sunken Diamond parking lot after Saturday's game, Holler's dad asked him who was pitching for the Cardinal on Sunday.
"I told him yours truly," remembered Holler.
The two went out to dinner along with his teammate Ryan Kissick and roommate Sean Howard. Holler decided to stay with his father at his local hotel that evening, because it might be more conducive to a good night's sleep. He claims to have gotten to bed early and when he woke up well in advance of having to be at the park the next day, his first collegiate start was bearing down on him.
"I think it was about the most nervous time of my life," said Holler, who was able to eat just about a half a bowl of cereal the morning of his start. "But, it turned out okay."
It actually turned out more than okay. Holler pitched 6.0 magnificent innings of one-run, three-hit baseball with five strikeouts versus the Longhorns to earn his first collegiate win and wrap up a series victory for the Cardinal against a team that had come into town as the nation's top-ranked squad by Collegiate Baseball.
Holler came back the following Sunday with another excellent performance, picking up his second consecutive win with 7.0 innings of one-run, five-hit work in the first road game of his collegiate career to close out a three-game sweep at California.
After hitting a small bump in the road when he took his first collegiate loss at USC in his next start, he rebounded with another outstanding performance at Saint Mary's this past Tuesday with 3.0 innings of scoreless two-hit work, striking out four.
According to Holler, much of his early success can be attributed to the mental lessons he learned during those fall intra-squad games.
"I realized that our hitters are better than those on other teams, and I if I can get our hitters out, then I can get their hitters out," said Holler.
He also credits Stanford pitching coach Tim Kunis with helping him with his mental approach.
"When I walked a few guys in those first couple of fall outings, Coach Kunis just told me that if I just attacked hitters, I was going to get more guys out," remembers Holler. "You have to make them afraid of you and let them know that you're coming after them. You just need to trust your abilities and decide that you're better than the guy you're facing."
This year, Holler has been much better than most batters he faced, at least those on the other team.
by Kyle McRae