Holmes, Jack (2014)
Jack Holmes first crossed paths with baseball as a young man growing up in Grand Lake Stream, a place better known for its fly rods than its fastballers. From an early age Jack played ball as long as there was daylight. Sometimes when it got too dark to see grounders, a man called Lola Sockabasin used his forty two inch homemade bat to loft sky high pop ups into the twilight. The high school in Grand Lake Stream boasted sixteen students for two grades. Consequently, he traveled to Lee Academy to complete his schooling.
At Lee he began to display a glimpse of things to come, throwing a no hitter against archrival Mattanawcook of Lincoln. Jack has said he was more of a soft tossing lefty then. That changed soon. One thing that never changed for Jack was the relationship he formed with a fellow that he often played pass with on the lawn of Mallett Hall, the dorm. Clarence Thompson became a lifelong friend and supporter.
After graduating from Lee, Jack returned to Grand Lake Stream briefly. However, money was hard to come by there. Jack speaks of his Dad telling him on a Sunday night when he was returning to Lee that he had no money to offer him for the upcoming week. As a result, when a friend suggested they pursue a manufacturing job in Connecticut in 1951, he was off.
Jack joined the military in 1953 and soon found himself in Korea. Like many things in life, the service contained a blessing. By using the GI Bill, Jack was able to return to the University of Maine. There he could renew his friendship with baseball. And there his game underwent a transformation. He would go on to be called “One of the best college pitchers I have seen” by the late Jack Butterfield. And he was very good indeed. His first game as a freshman (No freshmen on varsity teams at that time) was a no hitter. His second start was another. There were forty-three strikeouts in two games. There were more no hitters and many more strikeouts. He was the anchor of a freshman team that Maine legends Sam Sezak and Hal Woodbury called possibly the best ever. They were right. That team finished 9 – 0.
In the summer of his freshman year at Maine Jack played for Old Town in the old Eastern League. He kept mowing them down, producing 77 strikeouts in 35 innings pitched. The late Hugh Lord said in The Bangor Daily News, “Every so often there appears on the Maine scene an athlete who captures everybody’s attention by sheer dint of performance. Such an athlete is Jack Holmes. Eastern Maine baseball fans are buzzing about what pitching records he may chalk up…” Hugh was not the only one watching. Jack was invited to workouts with the Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies and Pirates. While changing for his workout in Fenway, Jack was introduced to a fellow named Ted Williams. When told Jack was from Maine, The Splinter said, “Hey, you’re from Maine, eh? Great fishing up there! Good luck, kid.” That was quite a loquacious response for Ted. Before the All Star game of the Eastern League, Jack was a Pirate and his Maine season was over. Owen Osborne wrote, ”His signing must have brought a sigh of relief from Bowdoin, Bates and Colby bosses.”
The late summer of 1958 found Jack in Grand Forks, ND playing Class C baseball. The next spring found him in Double A. Even by today’s standards that is an amazing career leap. Then it all came crashing down with a slide on the bases. The result was a career ending knee surgery. One can only wonder what might have happened had today’s medical technology been available. Jack does not dwell on that. In fact, one of his best “Grandchild Stories” is about the day Carl Yastrzemski refused to face him in Double A. It seems since Jack was a lefty Yaz was called back for a pinch hitter. When the grandchildren ask why Yaz left the game, Jack’s response is the future Triple Crown winner was afraid of him.
Don’t feel bad for Jack Holmes. The same drive, determination and work ethic that made him a standout on the field have also made him a success off from the baseball field as well. He went on to graduate from the University of Connecticut. He subsequently retired as President of a very successful business that once ranked in the top one hundred of its type worldwide. Joe Brown, Dick Wagner and Jack Butterfield were right. He was a winner.
Bats: Left • Throws: Left
6-1, 185lb (185cm, 83kg)
Draft: Drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2nd round of the 1977 MLB January Draft-Regular Phase from Temple College (Temple, TX) and the Oakland Athletics in the 2nd round of the 1977 MLB June Draft-Secondary Phase from Temple College (Temple, TX).
• Jack Holmes of Stockton Springs pitched two no-hitters in his first four games at the University of Maine and later had success in the Eastern Maine semipro league and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization.