The Monsignor McClancy senior outfielder, who has a great chance of being the first New York City high school prospect drafted in the first round of June’s Major League Baseball draft, will decide between professional baseball and an already signed scholarship at Mississippi State University very soon.
Holmes’ numbers were staggering to put it lightly: .460 batting average during the regular season with six doubles, five triples, seven home runs and 24 RBI's in that same 24-game span, along with various first-round projections in Baseball America and MLB.com mock drafts.
But the teenager recognizes the unique position he’s earned in baseball, especially as an African American, where the sport has experienced a dramatic decline.
In fact, less than 8 percent of all MLB players on opening-day rosters earlier this April were African American, considerably lower than a peak of 19 percent in 1986, some 31 years ago.
“Even now, I try to reach out to the younger generation of African-American baseball players,” said the 17-year old Holmes after taking practice cuts on a cloudy Tuesday at McClancy Field. “When I get to the majors, which I will one day, I definitely want to join some of the RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner-Cities) programs and the YMCA programs.
“There are kids that are athletic, but they don’t know what to do with that athleticism,” he added. “There’s kids that don’t have the right coaching at a young age, so they’re being led down the wrong path. I want to be able to lead the kids down the right path, not only on the field but off the field as well.”
The recent Fenway Park saga doesn’t help.
Earlier in May, Baltimore Orioles star Adam Jones, one of baseball’s best players, was the object of racial slurs from Boston fans. Holmes didn’t shy away from discussing that.
“It does bother me because that’s just not cool,” said Holmes. “I don’t like hearing things like that, but sometimes there’s just not a lot we can do about it.”
The fact that Holmes could already formulate rational thoughts in regards to heavy discussion points speaks to the maturity he brings, which McClancy head coach Nick Melito credits to his foundation at home.
“His mom and dad are great people,” said Melito. “It starts at the home and I think the school and our coaches were just an extension of his family. His maturity level is off the charts.
“He’s a team leader, an honor student, he goes and helps in food pantries,” Melito continued. “He loves baseball but he knows there’s other things in life.”
“Growing up my parents gave me no choice but to be good in the classroom” adds Holmes. “They didn’t allow me not to do my homework. I learned that doing my work would benefit me in the future, and it has definitely benefitted me a lot.”
It’s also why coach Melito has no doubt that Holmes, Melito’s first and only four-year varsity player to date, will succeed in baseball regardless of his next avenue, college or pro.
“He has humility,” Melito said. “He doesn’t go around telling people how good he is, he just plays. He’s had pressure on him since he was 14. He’s still 17, but he acts and talks like he’s a lot older.”
Holmes was damn good from the jump, but it was his disposition that won over coach Melito, who has seen the talent before but never combined with this kind of temperament from a 14-year old.
“We’ve had kids with talent, but they wouldn’t be able to handle it mentally and physically,” Melito explained. “I wouldn’t take a player up unless he’s doing very well in school, and he could mentally handle failure.”
Because of his journey from freshman prodigy to senior leader, the Team USA under-18 alum has seen the benefit of his early struggles. Coach Melito highlights some strikeouts and mini-slumps, but adds “that he never sulked.”
“Baseball is a game of failure,” Melito said. “How they handle failure is either going to make them excel or bring them down. He handles it, not that he experiences it a lot, but when he does, he hardly ever changes his expression.”
The 6-foot-2 Holmes now passes on his accumulated knowledge to the current younger McClancy baseball athletes, in an effort to make them more comfortable with their surroundings.
“It’s a great feeling when people look up to you go to you for the answers to their problems,” Holmes said. “It’s definitely a great feeling when you know people want you to be there for them, people want you to lead them, and just motivate them every day.”
With McClancy now in the eight-team double elimination stage of the Catholic League playoffs, Holmes’ high school career is nearing its conclusion.
McClancy is the third seed, and was set to face Iona Prep on May 31. A city champion will be crowned in the next two weeks.
As of now, Holmes is still undecided on what to do afterward, but everyone around him seems confident that he’ll make the right choice.
“I’m still really sitting 50-50 with the decision,” he said. “I’m talking to my potential college coach at Mississippi State, I’m talking to my future teammates there, and I’m talking to scouts every day, so I’m just trying to weigh both sides of the situation and see what will work out best.”