When Clay Holmes was growing up, if his family wasn’t at church they were at the ballpark.
At the time, his father, Wendell, served as pastor of New Teamon Baptist Church in Slocomb and led the town’s youth sports programs.
As it turns out, both places ended up changing Holmes’ life in a big way. His parents had poured into him from a young age, and at 11, he gave his life to Christ at a revival led by Sammy Gilbreath, director of the office of evangelism for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
“I remember walking the aisle that night and beginning this journey of having Jesus Christ as my Savior and pledging to walk with Him for the rest of my life,” Holmes said.
Growing faith and skills
As he grew up, Holmes grew in his faith — and his baseball skills.
Wendell Holmes said he had coached a lot of boys and could tell Clay had a special talent even at a young age.
“I didn’t talk much about it, but I knew it — I knew God was doing something with him,” he said.
Holmes realized in 10th grade that he wanted to commit to seeing if baseball was something he could pursue, and in 2011 he was drafted out of Slocomb High School by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He came up through their minor league system, made his major league debut in 2018 and was traded to the Yankees as a relief pitcher in July.
He’s known for his sinking fastball, which is up to 99 miles per hour.
“It’s been a crazy story that’s shown God’s faithfulness in my life,” Holmes said, “and just how He can take and use somebody from even small-town Alabama to make an impact for Him, and use the talents He’s given me and make a positive impact.
“I’m definitely thankful for the game, the people He’s surrounded me with and all the people who have encouraged me along the way, with obviously my parents being the two biggest of those.”
One of the ways Holmes has used his platform is with Baseball Country, a ministry in west Alabama that uses sports as an outreach.
“Their mission is to use the greatest game ever played to tell the greatest story ever told,” he noted.
The ministry, run by Sam Marsonek, focuses on using baseball, softball, football and community revitalization projects to spread the gospel. Marsonek, who once played professional baseball, moved to Alabama with his family in 2016 to lead Baseball Country.
“The more I get to know Sam’s heart, and what God is doing out of Baseball Country, the more I’m drawn to it and want to help in any way I can,” Holmes said.
He’s helped out with a number of events, teaching game fundamentals to young players and sharing his faith in Jesus with them and their parents.
He also is involved with Unlimited Potential Inc., a group of former professional baseball players who now invest in and disciple pro players in the U.S. and internationally.
Wendell Holmes said that, though he’s proud of the accomplishments of Clay and his other sons, seeing them use the opportunities God has given them to share their faith is the best gift of all.
He admitted he got emotional the first time he saw a photo of Clay sharing his faith with a crowd at a Baseball Country event.
“I was more excited and more thankful for that than anything he could do in baseball,” he remembered. Now pastor of Place of Grace Church in Slocomb, he added, “To see him doing that was worth all the work and prayers and service and coaching and everything — it was worth it all. And to see it keep going and continue into even a larger platform for him, that’s what I’m praying.”
Want to hear more of Clay Holmes’ story? Check out Season 4, Episode 1 of TAB Media’s serial-style “Stories” podcast, available now. Season 4 also continues the story of Sammy Gilbreath, who was featured in Season 1. Listen at tabonline.org/stories or wherever you get your podcasts.
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