April 24, 2010 11:22:00 PM
HAMILTON — Good athletes come by their talent naturally and, rightfully so, are remembered for their extraordinary athletic skills.
Unfortunately, because some have been blessed with an abundance of athletic ability and little else, they never learn that becoming an exceptional athlete takes more than having fantastic skills.
So what distinguishes a good athlete from a great one?
The answer boils down to what coaches call “intangibles,” characteristics separate from innate athletic ability — qualities such as discipline, perseverance, self-motivation, hard work, a commitment to excellence, good character, and a positive attitude. These traits can’t be coached, and more often than not tend to separate the good athletes from the great ones.
For those who have known former Hamilton High School baseball star Spencer Holman, it’s not surprising that all of the aforementioned qualities, in addition to several others, were mentioned by former coaches and ex-teammates in explaining why they weren’t surprised to learn he is a member of the Delta State University Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2010.
“Spencer Holman was as good a kid as you could find and one of the best teammates anybody could have asked for,” said former Delta State baseball coach Bill Marchant, who is the school’s athletic alumni/sports hall of fame coordinator. “He was what I would call a good ol’ country boy from Hamilton who worked very hard to become a great baseball player. He never complained. He just went about his business and, as a coach, that’s about all I could have asked for.”
Marchant, who coached Holman his redshirt freshman, sophomore, and junior seasons, said his recruiting philosophy was to find “blue-collar” type players and, through hard work, turn them into good baseball players.
“We didn’t recruit the high-maintenance type players that some of the big schools did,” said Marchant, who was 283-127 in eight seasons. “We went after the players who knew what hard work was and who were of good character, and I think we hit the nail on the head with Spencer. Recruiting him was easy because he really wanted to come here and play baseball.”
Mike Kinnison took over for Marchant as Delta State baseball coach in 1997, Holman’s senior season. Although Kinnison coached him only one year, he said Holman was a great student-athlete who appreciated his education.
“Spencer came from a great family with great values,” Kinnison said. “He was a very smart baseball player, as well as a smart student — one of those rare types whose accomplishments on the field were equal to those off the field.”
Kinnison remembers Holman as a pleasant person and a good role model for the team’s younger players, one who was also open-minded to make the necessary adjustments to become a better ballplayer.
“What made him special, however,” Kinnison said, “was that once the game started, he was a great competitor who did whatever it took to win. For that, he had the respect of the entire team.”
James Reed had the pleasure of coaching Holman from junior high through high school.
“Hands down, he was the best player I coached in my time at Hamilton,” said Reed, who now teaches and coaches at Caledonia High School. “But he was a good young man, not just a great ballplayer. He tried to do anything I asked him to do, no questions asked, and after he left here he did a great job at Delta State.”
Reed had Holman batting cleanup early in his career, but switched him to the No. 3 spot.
“I did that because that way I knew he’d always be batting in the first inning,” Reed said.
Hamilton High baseball coach Lewis Earnest remembers Holman as a “really good kid who played hard and did a lot of things right.”
A starter on Earnest’s Aberdeen American Legion baseball team in the summer of 1992, Holman pitched and played first base and outfield for the 26ers.
“He was just one of those type kids who gave it everything he had,” said Earnest, who had just completed the ’92 spring season as a graduate assistant at Delta State. “He was easy to coach and he had the sweetest left-handed swing — just a pretty swing.”
Chris Willis, Holman’s teammate on the 26ers and a close friend and rival since their childhood days, agreed with Earnest’s assessment of Holman’s swing.
“I always thought Spencer was a phenomenal all-around athlete,” said Willis, a two-sport high school star who is the assistant head football coach/co-defensive coordinator/secondary coach at the University of North Alabama. “Spencer was a good quarterback in football, but baseball was his game. He had that long, sweet swing, kind of like Will Clark, and I can tell you that of all the batters I faced in high school and college, he was the toughest out I ever ran up against. He was so disciplined, and he just would not chase a bad pitch.”
Baseball abilities aside, Willis thinks Holman’s character helped make him so successful.
“Spencer had more class than anyone around,” Willis said. “He was well respected and everybody seemed to follow him.”
Willis said Holman’s work ethic also played a key part in his success.
“Here he was one of the stars of the team and if the coach needed someone to catch to warm up a pitcher, he’d jump out there,” Willis said. “If a teammate needed him to shag fly balls, Spencer would do it. It didn’t matter whether it was raking the field after practice or cleaning the dugout, Spencer was always ready to help out in any way he could.”
Rodney Batts, who is in his eighth year as a full-time assistant coach at Delta State, also played with Holman for the 26ers and at Delta State. He said Holman was a great player and a really good hitter even in high school.
“More importantly, though, Spencer was a great teammate with a positive attitude who rallied around everybody on the team,” Batts said. “He not only had faith in himself, but he also believed in everyone else on the team and was supportive of all his teammates.”
Corey Sledge, who played against Holman in Dixie Youth and then with him on the 26ers and at Delta State, said two things have always impressed him about Holman.
“He’s just a really good person,” said Sledge, a standout baseball player at Aberdeen High and at Delta State. “He’s always going to stand up for what’s right both on and off the field. He always did the right thing, and he still does.
“Because he is what he is, he’s been a real ambassador for Delta State. It would be very hard to find anyone who had anything negative to say about Spencer or who doesn’t respect what he has accomplished. I know his mother and father are proud of him, and Delta State should be, too.”
As for his former teammate’s baseball skills, Sledge said Holman’s drive to improve impressed him the most.
“He worked real hard at being a good baseball player and just kept getting better and better every year,” Sledge said. “I’d been at Delta State a year and my coach (Marchant) asked me about Spencer, and I told him the thing I remembered the most was he just seemed to get better every year at every level we played.”
Despite their friendship, Sledge has an issue he plans to take up with Holman.
“We went out to eat this past weekend when he was home and then we talked again earlier this week and that scoundrel didn’t say a word about his induction,” Sledge said. “I’m not that surprised he didn’t toot his own horn because that’s the way he’s lived his life, both on and off the field. But we’ve been really good friends for a long time, so I’m going to have to get on him about not at least mentioning it to me.”
True to character, Holman said he was excited about being inducted into the Hall of Fame and grateful he had been selected.
“I was really shocked when I was informed I was to be inducted,” Holman said. “This is a special event, and I am humbled that out of the many Delta State athletes who could have been picked, I was chosen for this honor.”
A standout baseball player at every level, Holman lettered six years for the Lions be