Bubba Hollins will never forget where he was when the call came. He was pulling into the parking lot at Michael’s Banquet Facility in Hamburg for senior prom when his cell phone rang. It was Murray Cook, a scout for the Tigers, telling him he had just been selected in the 35th round.
Hollins sat in the parking lot for a minute with his date, Maddie Bryan, and digested what he had heard. Imagine having that shred of news moments before greeting your best friends and classmates for their biggest night in high school. But he calmly walked into prom and never mentioned the draft.
The word quickly spread, of course. You know kids and social media these days. They get the news before it happens. One friend sent him a congratulatory text before the Tigers called, leaving Hollins temporarily confused. Plus, how many girls walked into prom with a professional baseball prospect?
His date had to tell … someone.
“It was a cool thing to have happen,” Hollins, set to graduate from Orchard Park High, said Sunday afternoon. “As the night went on, I started getting text messages from people and phone calls. The guys ended up finding out from other people that were there. … I was smiling a lot, I can tell you that.”
For him to remain quiet and humble after realizing his boyhood dream was no surprise. Coaches and batting instructors for years have marveled over his selfless attitude and work ethic. He had a reputation for being a great teammate before he was a great player, the kind of kid you want on your side no matter the sport.
And Hollins is a terrific player, much like his father was at Orchard Park High before graduating in 1984. Certainly you remember Dave Hollins, a switch-hitting, cannon-armed third baseman who spent 12 seasons in the big leagues. He may have been the best position player in Western New York history.
Dave Hollins played seven years with the Phillies. He was a key component in their march to the 1993 World Series, the same year he played in the All-Star Game. He also played with the Red Sox, Twins, Mariners, Angels, Blue Jays and Indians before retiring in 2003.
Dave is quick to say he wasn’t even the best hitter in his family. Paul Hollins, seven years older, was a prospect in the Mets organization and later with the Tigers and Mariners. People are still telling stories about him hitting a bomb into the maple tree beyond center field at Cazenovia Park and titanic blasts over the trees and into Green Lake in Orchard Park.
Bubba may not have the same arm strength that his father had — who does? — or the prodigious power his uncle had — who does? — but he shared the same passion they had for the game. He had a key to Orchard Park Little League’s indoor practice facility and often could be found on cold wintry nights pounding baseballs into the netting and fantasizing about playing pro ball.
Dave Hollins never drilled baseball into his son. The game was in their DNA. In fact, it was his mother, Kerri, who did the pitching when Bubba was young. Dave was often on the road as a player and scout during the summer. He worked with Bubba during the offseason. Bubba couldn’t get enough.
And that’s what made him special.
“A lot of credit goes to my mom,” Hollins said. “She was the one throwing to me when I was little. My dad was always gone. As soon as he was back for the offseason, we’re always working together and always talking baseball. He’s had a huge impact on me. I couldn’t have done this without my parents. They’ve always been there for me. I always wanted it for myself.
“My dad never had to push me to go to practice. I was always ready two hours before a game when I was little. He’s always told me, ‘Nobody can want it but yourself.’ I always took that to heart. I work just as hard when he’s not around as I do when he is here.”
Nice kid, Bubba Hollins.
His given name is also Dave. His family started calling him “Bubba” when he was a baby because he had chubby cheeks. The funny thing about Bubba was that he was the farthest thing from a Bubba during adolescence. He was only 5-foot-5 as a sophomore, but he generated incredible bat speed for a kid his size.
“I was a peanut in middle school,” he said. “I looked like I should have been in fifth grade when I was in eighth grade.”
He grew six inches between his sophomore and junior years but was only lightly recruited by Division I schools. Presumably, college coaches placed too much emphasis on his size and not the size of his heart. The big leagues are decorated with players who were taken after the 20th round.
Hollins (5-foot-11, 180 pounds) is about the size his father was 30 years ago. He will never be a power hitter, but he’s capable of hitting the ball a long way. He has very quick hands, hits to all fields and is stronger than he appears. He played shortstop for Orchard Park but will likely move to second or third in the next phase of his career.
And that could make for a difficult decision. Hollins has committed to St. Petersburg Junior College, where he’ll have an opportunity to play 80 games a season and improve his draft stock in the next two years. Junior colleges in the south are loaded with Division I-caliber players and are heavily scouted.
That appears to be his likely route, but money talks. Professional teams typically aren’t offering life-changing money to late-round picks, but Hollins would consider starting his professional career with the right contract. If that doesn’t work, he can go into the draft a second time in two years.
But he’ll always remember the first.
“I was really excited. I couldn’t believe it. I was really happy,” he said. “Yeah, that was pretty cool.”