Holmberg is a Jays lifer

QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:26 PM ET

This is Dennis Holmberg’s 34th season in a Blue Jays uniform.

Ten years as a coach, including two as the Jays bullpen coach, plus 24 years managing in the minors.

He was so successful at class-A Auburn — six consecutive division titles in nine seasons managing in the New York-Penn League — that they named a street after him in Auburn, N.Y.

Then, Holmberg’s routine was shaken last fall. The Jays decided to leave Auburn for Vancouver. Holmberg was asked to manage rookie-class Bluefield, Va.

“We went into Bluefield in September, it was a throw-back park, the dugouts, batting cage and clubhouse needed work,” said Holmberg, 59, this week from Bristol, Va.

Minor-league co-ordinator Doug Davis; minor league director Charlie Wilson; Pat Hentgen and Holmberg met with Bluefield officials to go over needed improvements, as Baltimore left after a 53-year affiliation.

“They improved the clubhouse, with new carpeting and lighting, the dugouts and cage,” Holmberg said. “Bowen Field is very picturesque, with an Appalachian mountain in straightaway centre. This place has grown on me fast.

“They’ve gone overboard to keep us happy. We’ll be here four more years.” At Auburn, Holmberg managed collegians like future Jays Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil at age 20; Russ Adams, Aaron Hill, Shaun Marcum, Zach Jackson, J.P. Arencibia, Marc Rzepczynski and David Cooper at 21, plus David Bush and David Purcey at 22.

This season he has Aaron Sanchez (selected 34th over-all in June of 2010) and Noah Syndergaard (38th in 2010), both 18, Kellen Sweeney (2nd), Mitchell Taylor (seventh round) and Miles Jaye (17th round), all 19.

“Minnesota and Atlanta dominated this league for years as they sent their college kids here,” Holmberg said. Bluefield was swept by

Danville (Braves) in three one-run games and took two of three in the second meeting. They won two of three against Elizabethon (Twins).

“This is the perfect spot for these kids, if we didn’t have this step they’d be in Dunedin in the Gulf Coast rookie league,” Holmberg said.

“This is a nice initiation to pro ball. Complex baseball is not realistic.”

The Jays stay in a dorm and are fed at the Mountain View Inn after home games.

“They serve meat, veggies, salad and fruit, we don’t have pizzas delivered to the clubhouse,” Holmberg said. Before games they head to Ryan’s Steak house paying $4 for a meal, as the club picks up the rest of the cost.

Holmberg is “piggy-backing” starters Taylor and Syndergaard every five days. One starts, the other relieves after 70 pitches. Next time out they reverse roles. Same for Sanchez and Jaye.

Syndergaard is 1-0, with a 1.47 ERA, issuing five free passes, striking out 24 in 18 1/3 innings, while Taylor is 1-1, with a 4.74 ERA with eight walks, 10 whiffs in 19 innings, while Jaye is 1-1, 3.12, with five walks, 13 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings and Sanchez is 0-1, 8.36, nine walks, 13 strikeouts in 14 innings.

“Lefty David Rollins was here for four starts, was 3-0 and could have been 4-0. He kind of reminded me of Jimmy Key the way he kept the ball down. He pitched like he didn’t belong here.”

Rollins was promoted to Vancouver.

First baseman Art Charles, a 20th-round selection a year ago, has a John Mayberry-type body (6-foot-6, 221 pounds). He has eight homers and

25 RBIs, a .271 average and a 1.024 OPS in 21 games.

The other night in Danville it was Bobby Cox night with the former Braves manager honoured by the Atlanta affiliate.

“Bobby is such a professional guy, he came over and spent about 10 minutes during batting practice,” Holmberg said.

Then, Cox threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Walking off he yelled “how was that pitch Dennis?”

Holmberg gave a thumbs up.

Only Omar Malave managing rookie-class Gulf Coast League, now in his 31st year playing, coaching or managing, is close to being with the Jays as long as Holmberg.

Have they named a Bluefield street after Holmberg yet?

“Not yet, but I’m hoping for another key to the city,” Holmberg says.


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