You’d think Elaine Goldsmith, an elementary school teacher for the past five years and a student working toward her master’s degree, would cringe when she hears her son, Carl Holmes, say he doesn’t really enjoy school or want to go to college.
A senior outfielder for Magnolia High School, Holmes already has decided that if drafted by a professional team in June, he will sign and pursue a baseball career.
He’d rather concentrate on his batting average--not his grade-point average.
As an advocate of education, Goldsmith might look on her son’s attitude toward school as almost blasphemous. But Goldsmith doesn’t mind.
“Carl really has baseball at heart, and I want to see him go as far as he can possibly go in it,” she said. “To try to deter him from that and insist that he go to college right from high school may do more harm than good. I’d like for him to be happy in whatever he wants to go into, and I’d like to see him be the best at it.”
Holmes is a decent student who has been able to maintain a 2.5 GPA at Magnolia, but his mother has accepted the fact that he may not be right for college.
That is no fault of Goldsmith.
Holmes grew up in the South Side of Chicago, three blocks from Comiskey Park, and attended nearly all of the White Sox home games since he was 10.
Because his family was good friends with the team’s equipment manager, Holmes was able to spend time before games in the clubhouse and on the field, mingling with the players and shagging batting practice balls with Harold Baines, Carlton Fisk, Manager Tony LaRussa and others.
In 1981, when he was 14, he spent half a season as the White Sox bat boy.
“It was like being raised by baseball players,” Holmes said. “All I ever wanted to do was play baseball. Seeing guys play and how they enjoy themselves in the clubhouse and after the games gives you the feeling that you want to be there.”
Holmes may get there eventually. But how soon remains to be seen.
Holmes has all the tools, beginning with his lean and sleek, 6-foot 4-inch, 200-pound body, which draws comparisons to Dave Winfield and Daryl Strawberry. He has a strong arm, good speed, and he can hit for power.
He has been Magnolia’s starting center fielder for three years and saw some action as a pitcher during his sophomore year.
He hit .407 with two home runs and 20 RBIs as a junior and is having another good year, batting .421 with 17 RBIs, this season. He is 9 for 15 in his last four games.
But drafting Holmes this year still would be a gamble.
Professional scouts and fans watch Holmes and wonder why, with such an athletic body and all that natural talent, he isn’t hitting .700 and getting more home runs.
But there are reasons.
Holmes may have grown up around professional baseball, but he never played organized ball until the summer before his freshman year, when he moved from Chicago to Anaheim with his mother and brother.
Holmes knew of no Little Leagues in the ghettos of the South Side. The closest he got to participating in organized baseball were the pickup, sandlot games he’d play with his friends.
When he came to California, there was a lot to learn.
And there still is.
“Scouts say he has all the skills, but that he’s not where he should be for a senior with that much ability,” said Don Popovich, Magnolia coach. “They say he doesn’t hit the ball consistently hard enough, but he’s still learning the game. I think he’s a year or two away.
“He’s like a young pup in a man’s body. He went from a clumsy young kid to a mature athlete, but I still don’t think I’ve tapped on what’s in store for him. Nothing but higher competition will bring out the best of him.”
Popovich thinks a year of junior college ball would benefit Holmes, who said he would attend Rancho Santiago College only if he wasn’t drafted in June.
“He doesn’t get much to hit now,” Popovich said. “The guys behind him aren’t hitting that much, so it’s easy for him to go fishing after bad pitches.”
Holmes, despite his occasional batting slumps, has come a long way in a short time. He has played summer ball in the Connie Mack League and, for the past three winters, has played for a Cincinnati Reds scout team which included Strawberry, Chris Brown of the San Francisco Giants, and several other pro and college players.
“I’ve learned a lot from the bench by watching those guys and from playing with them,” Holmes said. “There’s really a lot of competition in winter ball, and I like that because it makes me concentrate more. I think I’ll be a tougher player at a higher level.”
He’ll also be a tougher player when he masters the mental part of the game. That may take a while, though.
“One day, I feel great, and the next day I have to work to get myself ready to play,” Holmes said. “It’s like the kind of person I am. One day I can be real quiet and the next day I’ll talk a lot. I play best when I just go out there and have fun.”
Holmes thinks he’s about three years away from becoming an outstanding player, but he’s hoping a pro team will take a chance by drafting him this year. He may struggle at first, but with some more game experience and higher competition, he believes he’ll pay dividends.
And what if a professional baseball career doesn’t pan out?
Well, there’s always college.
“I’ll go to school if baseball falls through,” Holmes said. “But I’ll play ball as long as it’s going to take me.”