On Your Marc: 2/21

Guns and Gatorade don’t mix

Josh Holden’s story proves sports are nothing like war

By Marc Katz

Sports are a battle, and a war, and hand-to-hand combat, if you listen to those of us who write and talk about the games.

But they’re not, really. They’re just… games. War is war.

I know a guy who participated in both. He played for the Dayton Dragons in 2006 under a special rule that allowed West Point graduates to leave their commission if they signed a professional sports contract.

He also went back into the service and was deployed twice in Iraq.

“I’ve had some time to give some thought on that, and I think the answer is war and sports are not similar in any respect,” says Josh Holden, who now works in the insurance industry. “I think what people tend to forget is, after any game you go back to your home, back to your family. You kind of go back to your normal life, where in a wartime situation, that isn’t the case.

“Danger of attack is ever present.”

Holden, who grew up in the Cleveland area, had no special affinity for war or the military. He did have an offer to go to school at West Point to play football and baseball, provided he give six years of service back.

Both my parents are high school teachers,” Holden says. “I had never heard anything about West Point before my senior year in high school. I didn’t really have any influence that would make me want to look into the military.”

When he graduated from high school in 1999, he had some offers to play football and baseball, and the New York Yankees were looking to draft him in a late round when they found out he was going to West Point.

“The more I learned about West Point, and the more I learned about the Army, I thought it would be a good fit for my personality and the kind of life I wanted to live,” Holden says.

“It turned out all those things were true, and more. I’m still proud to say I’m a West Point graduate; still proud to say I served in the Army and served for our country overseas. Surely, it’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”

Holden says he joined a “peacetime army”:

“At the time, 1999, that was before 9/11 and all those things that happened. We hadn’t been in a conflict since Desert Storm (1990-91).

“Then, my junior year, that’s when 9/11 happened, and that’s when things really started to accelerate.”

Holden says the atmosphere at West Point became somber, and he knew he and his classmates were close to being sent into harm’s way, with “a good chance some of them may not come back.

“There’s a renewed sense of duty and purpose and a sense of urgency to be as prepared as you can possibly be to lead America’s sons and daughters in a way that will bring them home,” he says. “That’s not really comparable to playing baseball.”

Two years into Holden’s military duty following his 2003 West Point graduation—and before he had been deployed—Army rules allowed for pro athletes to take time off from their military commitment if a pro team was interested.

It was part of a recruitment option to allow more athletes to consider West Point.

The Reds had a tryout and liked Holden, who was a 6-foot, 219-pound lefty speedster. He was signed to play in the rookie Gulf Coast League in Sarasota, then joined rookie Billings in 2005 and was with the Dragons in 2006. He played one more year, at high-A Sarasota, but was already 26—older than most of his teammates—and while he could run, he was a .260 hitter without much power.

“After I finished playing with the Dragons [and Sarasota], I went to the First Cavalry Division,” Holden says. “I was able to fulfill my duty in that respect.“

Thoughts of a pro sports career used to go through Holden’s mind when he was younger, but not now.

“As you get older and reflect, I wouldn’t have done it any differently,” he says. “I love the insurance industry. My wife’s in the insurance industry as well.”

Nobody compares the insurance industry to war.

“In Iraq, we got bombed quite a bit,” Holden says. “There’s no job there that’s safe. You’re in a war-time environment; people are trying to kill you.”

Even those who return home without noticeable scars can be affected.

“There are a lot of people I know who have PTSD. It’s a very real disease. It’s something that can happen in a wartime situation, in an accident, in a robbery. I’ve been very blessed it hasn’t happened to me.

“I couldn’t be happier. I got a great opportunity to play baseball and so grateful I had the opportunity to go to West Point.”

He played in the Army-Navy football game and he played in Dayton’s Fifth Third Field.

“Dayton is a great town,” Holden says. “The fans are unbelievable. It’s a wonderful place to play baseball. I can remember the passion they had for the Dragons.

“I didn’t have any designs to play pro, but I took a chance.”

He took a chance with West Point as well, and went to real war.

The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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