Portland native Chris Holt thriving in the big leagues as Orioles' pitching coach

·4 min read

Jul. 29—Chris Holt's major league dreams started at an early age. A very early age.

"Probably back when I was playing Little League with Christy's Hardware and Coach Ron Farr," Holt said, referencing the longtime Portland area baseball coach. "It all starts with Ron Farr. ... Him having us out at shortstop and telling us to keep the button of our ball cap facing down when we're fielding a ground ball, and he'd say 'Fire that ball!'

"I was hooked from the beginning."

It started there, but Holt's baseball path has taken the 43-year-old Portland native to the big leagues, where he is now in his second season as the pitching coach for the Baltimore Orioles. It's a route that has been far from conventional; Holt played one season in the minor leagues in 2002, and didn't return to professional baseball for over a decade.

Now eight years after he broke into the major league pipeline, the Cheverus High School graduate is at baseball's highest level.

"There are other guys in the game that don't come from having played in the big leagues or from any kind of pedigree," Holt said. "I think we all understand how fortunate we are, but it also I think points to the fact that the reasons that we're able to coach at this level isn't because we've played. It's because we've studied the game."

This season, with Holt playing a key role, the Orioles thrived. A team that lost 110 games last year and more than 100 in three of the last four seasons was 50-49 entering Friday, and Holt's work with the pitching staff has been a big reason behind the improvement. Baltimore was last in the majors with a 5.84 ERA last season. This year, the Orioles are 15th out of 30 teams with a 3.91 ERA.

"Our pitchers deserve all the credit," he said. "I think they are going out there and attacking with reckless abandon nightly. Are they perfect every night? No. But they've been very consistent about being on the attack, and in my mind, that's the No. 1 thing."

That's a mentality Holt has tried to instill in the pitchers, and it's one he honed while growing up in Maine. Local coaches like Farr, Mort Soule at Deering, where Holt played as a freshman, Kevin Smith at Cheverus and Will Sanborn at St. Joseph's College helped develop his passion for the game, and current Falmouth coach Mike D'Andrea, who coached Holt in American Legion, taught him how to properly approach it.

"The best results you can get as a player are when you are aggressive and when you compete," said Holt, who lives in Cape Elizabeth with his wife and two children. "D'Andrea was a guy who really impressed upon me the importance of competing and competing in the moment, and not overthinking anything. ... You have to go attack."

Holt pitched at St. Joseph's and Flagler College in Florida, and he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 21st round in 2002. His professional career didn't last long, and he was out of the minor leagues after 15 games in the New York-Penn League.

He wasn't done with baseball, however. After teaching middle school and coaching in high school from 2009 to 2011, Holt was back coaching in the Astros' organization by 2014 after a meeting with Houston minor league coach Doug White in 2012. In 2019 he was brought to Baltimore by Astros assistant general manager Mike Elias, who became the Baltimore GM. Two years later, Holt, who also oversees the Baltimore organization as the director of pitching, became the Orioles' pitching coach.

For Holt, communication has been key.

"I try to build relationships with these guys, and get to know them," he said. "When you get to know players, there's a little more feel for what kind of dosage do they need of information. ... (A lot of guys) like a lot of information during their bullpens and after games. Other guys are a little more simple. (It's) just knowing what each guy needs and trying to get them what they need."

Holt said his limitations as a player — he threw only in the high 70s and low 80s even into college — have set him up well for coaching.

"I had to fight, claw and scratch for every mile per hour that I ever gained," he said. "I had to learn how to pitch before I could ever throw hard enough to compete against that level of player. When it comes to my experience as a player, I think it definitely helped me as a coach."

Holt's happy where he is, but he's eyeing more from his career.

"I think a lot of people, when they want to get good at something, they want to do it at the highest level possible," he said. "You can never really rest on your laurels. ... When we have a World Series ring on our finger, I think we can talk sense of accomplishment. But for right now, the work is the work, and you just have to keep putting it in every day."