Grant Holmes’ journey to Braves hard to believe, even for him

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Grant Holmes delivers to a Detroit Tigers batter during the ninth inning at Truist Park, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Atlanta. The Braves won 7-0. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Grant Holmes delivers to a Detroit Tigers batter during the ninth inning at Truist Park, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Atlanta. The Braves won 7-0. (Jason Getz / AJC)

When he made his major-league debut Sunday after 10 years in the minors, Grant Holmes called on an unlikely ally – the brim of his cap.

Pitching before a crowd of 40,211 at Truist Park, Holmes had no interest in taking in the full panorama of the stadium.

Too dangerous to the mission.

Holmes kept his eye level on the field and not much higher than the lower grandstands.

“Honestly, I tried not to go above the second (deck),” Holmes told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday. “I tried to keep my hat down and just stay focused. I didn’t want the opportunity to get the best of me. I just tried to stay focused and throw as many strikes as possible.”

After he had waited a decade for his dream to materialize, it was a smart play. And not only smart, but effective. Holmes was the story of the game for the Braves, overpowering the Tampa Bay Rays in three scoreless innings to give his team a chance in what would turn out to be an 8-6 loss.

He followed it Wednesday by mowing through the Detroit Tigers with a nine-pitch ninth inning to complete the Braves’ 7-0 win at Truist Park.

After his first four innings as a major leaguer, he hasn’t given up a walk and has yet to allow a base runner to reach second base.

Go figure.

It happens every so often – a player makes the majors after years of persevering and dreaming in the minors. That’s heartwarming enough. But it’s less frequent that that player grew up cheering for the team he’s now playing for, makes his debut on Father’s Day with his family (including his dad) in the crowd and then performs like he’s been doing this for years. And then, for good measure, he has a hairstyle worthy of an 1980s heavy-metal band.

Let’s hope that the Grant Holmes experience lasts as long as he wants it to because it’s an irresistible story. It’s part of the game’s magic – the player whose tenacity and endurance are finally rewarded with a major-league call-up that he never was sure would come.

And better yet, the protagonist in this case is playing his role with the humility and awe that you would hope.

“It’s obviously a surreal opportunity and feeling that I’ve had playing for the Braves,” the 28-year-old Holmes said Tuesday, sitting at his locker in a corner of the clubhouse. “Pretty crazy.”

I asked him if there was a particular aspect of finally making it to the majors that stood out to him after so many years of bouncing around the minors, such as the pristine field.

“Honestly, everything,” he said. “Everything. Literally down to just the smallest details. And you know, there’s people in here that I’ve said before that I’ve played with on (the video game) ‘MLB the Show’ when I was back in high school. It’s like, ‘Wow, these guys are still playing.’ It’s crazy. It’s insane.”

He paused and chuckled.

“You know, like Chris Sale – I was playing with him when I was younger. Friggin’ (Charlie) Morton. It’s kind of like a dream come true. It’s like, I’m teammates with these guys. It’s crazy.”

Moreover, those video-game characters come to life now greeting him is its own shock.

“Literally,” Holmes said. “It’s crazy. I try not to act, like, star-struck. But to a certain extent, it’s like, ‘Wow, these guys are like, 10-, 15-year big leaguers, and here I am over here, this is my third day in the big leagues. It’s crazy.”

Before Sunday, Holmes’ professional career comprised of 10 minor-league seasons with three organizations (including the 2020 season spent at the Oakland Athletics’ training site). He had worn the uniforms of 10 teams, from the Ogden Raptors to the Gwinnett Stripers. In 2022, he was given his release by Oakland, quite arguably the worst organization in baseball.

And now he has been highly effective in two appearances for the team he grew up cheering for in Conway, South Carolina.

Crazy is about right.

There’s no telling how long this ride lasts, but it’s a sweet reward for holding onto a dream, having the fortitude to make it happen and not counting giving up as an option.

“Never,” he said. “Somebody’s going to have to take (my jersey) off my back for me to get out of the game.”

It almost did happen when Oakland sent him packing. Given that his ERA that season with the Athletics’ Triple-A affiliate was 8.27, it made sense. But about two weeks after the Athletics gave him his release in July of that year, the Braves signed him to a minor-league contract, seeing the promise he displayed as a 2014 first-round pick of the Dodgers. (One Braves executive who had insight into Holmes – general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who in 2016 had just joined the Dodgers as their vice president of baseball operations when they traded Holmes to Oakland.)

Under the care of the Braves’ developmental arm, he turned his career around. Assigned to Triple-A Gwinnett at the start of the 2023 season, he finished the year with a 3.54 ERA in 61 innings, all in relief. This year, he lowered it to 2.63 in 41 innings – splitting between starting and relief – to earn the promotion to Atlanta.

“The development that I’ve been able to get better at being a pitcher, working on things, it’s honestly been a blessing to have these guys develop me into who I am now,” Holmes said Monday.

The hair has its own development story. At the time of his trade in 2016, he wore his brown curls in a puffy look. But lost in the deal was Holmes’ proximity to the woman who cut his hair. Being particular with his locks, he just let it grow out.

“When I got home during the offseason, I didn’t get it trimmed because whenever it got longer, I started to like it a little bit more,” he said.

It is now a sight – the curls spill out from his cap and flow down below his shoulders, accented by a thick mustache that extends to his jawline.

It is trimmed either by Holmes’ mother-in-law or his wife, Sami.

Holmes’ journey now goes to New York, where the Braves begin a three-game weekend series Friday against the Yankees. Holmes, 10-year minor leaguer, could take the Yankee Stadium mound in relief of Sale or (friggin’) Morton.

Pretty crazy.