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Oklahoma State baseball: How Josh Holliday is turning his dream for the Cowboys into a reality

Josh Holliday is determined to bring OSU baseball back to the days of packed home games, conference championships, regionals and trips to Omaha. He’s getting close to that quicker than he ever imagined.
By Cody Stavenhagen, Staff Writer Published: June 7, 2014
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photo - OSU coach Josh Holliday greets his players, including Hunter Hagler (18) and Brendan McCurry (4), before Game 1 of the NCAA baseball Stillwater Super Regional between Oklahoma State and UC-Irvine at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., Friday, June 6, 2014. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
OSU coach Josh Holliday greets his players, including Hunter Hagler (18) and Brendan McCurry (4), before Game 1 of the NCAA baseball Stillwater Super Regional between Oklahoma State and UC-Irvine at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., Friday, June 6, 2014. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

STILLWATER — There’s this dream that keeps Josh Holliday up at night.

It’s about what used to be.

It’s about what could be.

But it’s no nightmare. It’s a vision.

A self-created prophecy to bring Oklahoma State baseball back to the days of packed home games, conference championships, regionals and trips to Omaha.

In Holliday’s second year as coach at OSU, the nostalgia fuels him. The memories drive him. The ghosts keep him awake.

“I stayed up at night losing sleep the last two years,” Holliday said a week ago. “Just thinking about how to reestablish the culture of this being a big deal.”

Study the Cowboys’ rebirth under Holliday, and it’s safe to say he’s running down this dream.

And, quicker than he ever could have imagined, he’s almost caught it.

* * *

Gary Ward coached at OSU from 1978-96. His teams won 17 conference titles and went to 10 College World Series. He never won it — only the 1959 team did that — but his Cowboys were always close.

Ward attended a banquet a few years ago when Holliday was an assistant at Vanderbilt, and Holliday introduced him to Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin.

Ward’s words proved visionary.

“I said, ‘You have a budding superstar in this coaching business,’” Ward told Corbin. “Josh has prepared for this all his life.”

Ward would know. Tom Holliday was his right-hand man for 19 years. After Ward retired, he became his successor. Tom was OSU’s skipper from 1997-2003.

Holliday and his brother, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt, spent their entire childhood around the program.

Holliday would stand behind the outfield fence hoping to catch a Pete Incaviglia home run ball. He started hitting left-handed because that’s what Robin Ventura did. Ventura said a young Holliday took losses harder than players did.

He grew up in the culture, become a star athlete, was co-valedictorian of his high school class, went to OSU and led the Cowboys to a College World Series of his own in 1999 — the program’s last CWS.

Jon Adkins spent five years as a major league pitcher. Now he’s an MLB scout. He was also Holliday’s roommate at OSU.

“He just had so much passion and love for Oklahoma State, and that rubbed off on all of us,” Adkins said. “He was born for this. You knew he was headed for coaching.”

Holliday spent two years playing in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, then jumped into coaching. He worked for Tom for two years at OSU, then for a year at NC State after Tom was fired.

Eventually, Holliday left his father’s wing and made stops at Georgia Tech under Danny Hall, Arizona State under Pat Murphy and Vanderbilt under Corbin.

Ward said as much as his upbringing, those experiences make him the coach he is.

“He had the courage to go do those things to prepare him for this moment,” Ward said. “And at a very young age, he’s far more experienced than his years. By the very nature, Josh Holliday is a very special young man.”

For Holliday, it was all part of the plan. Part of the dream.

“It’s why I wanted to be a college baseball coach,” he said. “To raise my kids like my dad raised us.”

* * *

On June 8, 2012, Josh Holliday became the baseball coach at his alma mater.

During Frank Anderson’s tenure, OSU faded from national prominence. The program’s alumni weren’t involved. Allie P. Reynolds Stadium became outdated. Its stands became empty.

The day Holliday took the job, all that started to change. Fans and former players alike didn’t just want a new coach, most wanted an alum. They wanted Josh Holliday.

Jim Traber, a former OSU and MLB player and local radio personality, isn’t shy about that.

“To be in Stillwater, you have to know what it’s all about,” Traber said. “It’s no coincidence almost all the best coaches in the history of the school either worked there or played there. Eddie Sutton, John Smith, Mike Holder, now Mike Gundy. I think they need to know what Stillwater is all about.”

One of Holliday’s first steps was reaching out to alumni. His efforts paid off when 125 former players attended OSU’s baseball banquet this year.

Mickey Tettleton was drafted out of OSU in 1981 and played 14 seasons in the big leagues. He said Holliday’s respect for the past was instrumental in his quick rebuilding job.

“He started getting people back in there that made it what it was and started trying to help make it what it should be,” Tettleton said. “After I texted him congratulations when he first got the job, we communicated a lot more than I ever did with Frank Anderson. I never talked to Frank Anderson.”

There’s also a kicker many overlook.

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