You can count on him 

On July 17th at Historic Grayson Stadium, there was a meeting of three Savannah baseball legends.

Lou Brissie and Bill Hockenbury, members of the 1947 Savannah Indians, had both come into town for the night honoring that remarkable team. Brissie was a survivor of World War II who managed to recover from a broken leg, ankle and foot to lead the South Atlantic League in earned run average, wins and strikeouts.

Hockenbury totaled 19 home runs and over 100 runs batted in as the third baseman for the ‚47 team. While Brissie and Hockenbury returned to their respective homes after their weekend in Savannah, the third gentleman remained here in what has been his hometown for nearly sixty years.

For every Savannah Sand Gnats home game in 2004, Marcus Holland has been in his seat in the press box. Few, if any can match his attendance record over the years. When that press box is named in his honor on Wednesday, August 4, however, it won’t be as a prize for perfect attendance. It will be because Holland has contributed so much to baseball in Savannah over the last half-century.

Marcus Holland became an avid baseball fan at the age of 10, shortly after moving to Savannah. His parents would sometimes drop him off at (pre-Historic) Grayson Stadium for an Indians game, returning after it ended to pick him up.

Not long after he began to love baseball, he started working for the Savannah Morning News. Holland started as a copy boy in 1951, eventually advancing to sports writer and then editor of the sports section.

It was in 1968, his second year as sports editor, that Holland first became the official scorer for a Savannah minor league baseball team. At the time, the Savannah Senators were Grayson Stadium’s home team. Savannah’s affiliation with the Washington Senators lasted only a couple of years, but Holland has stayed on as official scorer for almost every year since.

In 1971, the Atlanta Braves brought their Double A franchise to Savannah. The affiliation with the Braves was a great time for Savannah baseball, as most of the fans at Grayson also rooted for Atlanta. Fans came out in droves to see the players that would eventually make up their favorite big league club.

A young catcher named Dale Murphy was perhaps the biggest star to emerge from the Savannah Braves, although he would become famous at another position. Murphy won the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1982 and ‘83 as a center fielder.

”People talk about the arms of players today, but Dale Murphy had a cannon,” Holland says. ”I once saw him take one step out of the dugout and fire a baseball into the left field bleachers. [Manager] Scraps Courtney almost had a heart attack.”

Many major leaguers have developed in front of Holland’s watchful eyes, including some who have locked up their places in history. Steve Bedrosian, another former Savannah Brave, won the 1987 American League Cy Young Award with 40 saves and a 2.83 earned run average. Curt Flood was a member of the 1957 Savannah Cardinals and played 15 major league seasons, but is best known for his lawsuit that was instrumental in the downfall of baseball’s reserve clause.

Some players making their marks in the big leagues today spent time in Savannah, as well. Eric Gagne won a Cy Young Award of his own in 2003 and set the consecutive saves record with 84. The man who homered against Gagne in last year’s All-Star Game, Hank Blalock, was also a Sand Gnat. Travis Hafner of the Cleveland Indians has also emerged this season, holding his batting average over .300 for the last two months.

Of course, Holland has seen more than just great players. There have been many changes in Grayson Stadium since his first visit. The press box that will bear his name has been expanded, and there have been other changes, good and bad.

”It’s a real shame that the bleachers in left field have been allowed to deteriorate,” says Holland. ”The fans always had a good time out there.”

Holland is also quick to remind that the popular Connect Savannah Grill was formerly the press box for football games held at the stadium.

So next time you‚re standing at the grill or watching from your seat at Grayson, glance toward the newly named Marcus Holland Press Box. You can count on a certain gentleman being there, doing the job he does so well.

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W. Ryan Gasque

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