Holdzkom makes good on podcaster Chelsea Peretti's prediction
The pitcher received some career advice from Chelsea Peretti in 2012
April 1, 2015 12:00 AM
John Holdzkom delivers against the Toronto Blue Jays last month at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, Fla.
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
Chelsea Peretti speaks onstage at the 2015 Writers Guild Awards L.A. Ceremony at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in March in Los Angeles.
By Stephen J. Nesbitt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BRADENTON, Fla. — At first, the caller was vague. His name? “John.” His age? “About 24.”
The host on the other end of the line was Chelsea Peretti, a stand-up comedian taping interviews for the second episode of her podcast, a call-in show composed of brief and trivial conversations with the random 20-somethings who phoned 323-989-CHEL.
“You’re just a young man getting your start in the world,” Peretti prompted. “How’s life going so far as an adult?”
There was dead air for a moment, then came an answer.
“I’ve already blown a small fortune.”
This was John Holdzkom.
It was October 2012, and the 6-foot-9 redwood of a right-hander was loafing on a couch in his parents’ home in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. He had been released four months earlier by the Bakersfield Blaze, a Class A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, and had moved home to earn some cash giving pitching lessons to high school athletes.
Two years later, he’s still not sure why he called in that day, or why he said all he said. But he was bored, broke and out of baseball.
PERETTI: How much is a small fortune? Ten grand?
HOLDZKOM: No. When I was 18 the New York Mets gave me $210,000.
PERETTI: Wooooah. Why?
HOLDZKOM: Because they thought I was a good baseball player.
The Mets drafted Holdzkom in the fourth round in 2006. And, for a while, he was a good baseball player. He threw hard — triple-digits hard — and struck out more than a batter per inning his first three years in the minors.
He spent his signing bonus on a souped-up Ford F-150 and a daily dose of high-priced sushi.
HOLDZKOM: It’ll catch up with you.
PERETTI: And then what happened? You started sucking at baseball?
HOLDZKOM: Um, I did. I’m not going to lie. I wasn’t as good as I thought I was, and my arm wasn’t as healthy as I thought it was.
The money was gone as soon as the elbow was. After Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery in 2008, pitching felt “completely foreign,” he said.
The Mets released Holdzkom in 2010 after he walked 10 batters in five innings in rookie ball. He sold the truck, went back to school for a semester and didn’t pitch in 2011. He impressed at a tryout for the Reds in 2012, but he didn’t last long with Bakersfield.
PERETTI: So you just basically [gave] away your chance. And was this the minor leagues or the major leagues?
HOLDZKOM: I was just a minor league nobody.
PERETTI: And you failed at even that?
HOLDZKOM: [laugh] I did fail at that. Hey, it’s true.
He hadn’t called to wallow, though. He told Peretti he had some exciting opportunities ahead. He was headed to Australia for winter ball, “but that’s not the Mecca of baseball, you know.” He was excited — genuinely excited, he still contends — though the Outback looked like only a pit stop near the end of the road in his once-promising baseball career.
He sounded hopeful, like a man who had come to peace with his past. He understood where things had gone wrong. There had been too many late nights, he said, and too much drinking.
“I wasn’t in denial of anything,” he said recently, reflecting on the call. “I wasn’t mad about anything. I was just aware of the reality.”
Peretti called him “mad mature” and her favorite caller yet.
PERETTI: I feel you have a lot of potential. I’m glad you’ve gotten your life back on track. I think you’re going to go to the majors after Australia.
This is John Holdzkom today. He learned Tuesday that he’ll start the season in the bullpen at Class AAA Indianapolis, after a 2014 season in which he climbed from independent ball to the Pirates’ postseason roster in the span of four months.
Last September, two years after Peretti’s prophetic send-off, Holdzkom made his major league debut, striking out the side against the St. Louis Cardinals.
He said he’s never listened to the podcast episode, and he didn’t know it had even aired until his mom was alerted to an article posted by an NBC baseball blogger who had listened to the episode and correctly identified the mystery man as Holdzkom.
He’d left too many clues. In hindsight, Holdzkom said, he wasn’t necessarily trying to protect his identity; he just didn’t think it would matter.
“I didn’t know she was popular, didn’t know so many people would hear it,” he said. “I thought it would just disappear.”
Asked if he can believe what’s transpired the past two years, he shrugged.
“I guess it’s crazy,” he said, pulling on his Pirates cap. “I don’t know. It’s unique, or something. I don’t really try to think about it, that it’s crazy, or I’d get overwhelmed.”
The answers were vague again. His name? John. His age? About 27. As he started toward the clubhouse exit, he shook his head and smiled.
“I don’t know what possessed me to call that number.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
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