STILLWATER – Josh Holliday always carried tangible connections to Oklahoma State’s rich baseball past, growing up in and around the program, observing Gary Ward and all the legendary players, playing at OSU and serving as an assistant on his dad’s coaching staff.
Yet since his return as head coach, and despite solid success, he consistently found something missing in his restoration effort.
Until last weekend.
With the Cowboys storming through the Stillwater Regional, strong crowds averaging more than 3,000 energized their three games, finally making it feel like old times inside Allie P. Reynolds Stadium.
“I stayed up at night losing sleep the last two years,” Holliday said, “thinking about how to reestablish the culture of this being a big deal. I want this to be a big deal for the kids who play here. I’m so thankful that the kids got to see that.
“It kind of makes me feel whole, in a lot of ways, when it comes to the program. It makes me feel like people are back for the kids.”
Coming up on his two-year anniversary as Cowboys coach, Holliday had returned all the vitals to the program. Winning ways, with 89 wins – and counting – in two seasons. A Big 12 championship. Regional host status. An old-school OSU attitude, confirmed by veteran Cal State Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook after the Cowboys beat his club on back-to-back nights.
“They have the Oklahoma State attitude back,” Vanderhook said. “There ain’t no doubt.”
And for at least one rocking weekend at Allie P., the fans were back, too. Attendance for OSU’s three games: 9,164.
“Helping us to feel like we’ve arrived a little bit again,” Holliday said. “Having this ballpark full of people and seeing the way our kids respond to the crowd is something that I’ve ached for ever since we came back, to see that.
“I knew in my heart it could happen, but it’s happening because of the players.”
That’s vintage Holliday, who deflects all credit, mostly shoving it on his players, but also on his coaching staff. And it’s arguably one of the best staffs in the country, with Rob Walton and Marty Lees arriving with stout resume’s when convinced to join the OSU resurrection project.
Still, Holliday, hired on June 8, 2012, is the director. And he’s already led OSU to its first regional championship on home soil since 1993 and just its third Super Regional ever, awaiting an opponent and a site for that next round with Oregon State and Cal Irvine playing again late Monday to resolve those matters.
Holliday’s influence and imprint are everywhere.
“I knew a little about the tradition and the history of the program,” said Cowboys junior Zach Fish, recruited by former coach Frank Anderson. “I knew back in the ‘80s we were a dominant force in college baseball. And there were all those years where we won the Big Eight.
“But I didn’t truly know about how rich our tradition was until Coach Holliday got here. He really opened my eyes, and I think everybody’s eyes, to what an amazing program we play in. The pride we have coming to the field with us every day and how fortunate we are to wear this uniform every day… it’s very humbling just to be able to wear this uniform.
“There have been many great players come through this program, people who built this tradition and built this program. We need to uphold that every year. I think the last two years, we’ve really gotten back to our roots and started playing a brand of baseball that was first started here.”
OSU players are recognizing and sensing that pride in the past – and present.
Maybe the fans are, too.
The players have “given fans something to kind of fall in love with again and make coming to a baseball game fun,” Holliday said. “You see people tailgating and showing up and filling the stands.
“That’s what we want for this program, so these kids can have a life experience they’ll never forget.”