When former Holy Spirit High School pitcher A.J. Holland was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 16th round of the Major League Baseball draft on June 7, he said it was just the beginning of his journey in baseball.
Today, he will take the next step on that journey.
Holland, 21, of Margate, has agreed to sign his first professional contract when he arrives in Orlando, Fla., today to meet with the Braves' minor-league affiliate in the Gulf Coast League.
"It's a surreal experience," Holland said in a phone interview Tuesday. "I see it as a result of all the hard work I put in, and all the people that put time in with me."
Exact details of the contract were unavailable, but Holland said it will tie himself to the Braves' organization for six years.
Holland most recently was a starting pitcher with NCAA Division I Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, and the Mat-Su Miners of the Alaskan Baseball League.
He arrived home from Alaska on Monday, and said he knew just a few days prior to departing that he would be flying to Florida on Wednesday at 6 a.m.
"It was good to be home, even though for not that long," Holland said. "Seeing everybody and everyone wondering how I'm doing, that's when it really hit me, that excitement."
Holland said he has been speaking with his former coach and Atlantic City Surf outfielder John Monell throughout the process.
"He's got a solid idea of what it takes to play pro ball." Holland said.
Monell runs offseason workouts that Holland regularly attends and his son, John Monell Jr., is playing for the double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels in the San Francisco Giants' organization.
Monell said that he sees qualities in Holland's training that will allow him to prosper as a professional athlete.
"His work ethic is fantastic," Monell said. "Ask him to run through a wall and leave. Come back and the wall is gone."
Monell coached Holland at Holy Spirit and on the Margate Green Wave of the Atlantic County Baseball League.
"I've known him since he was in high school," Monell said. "I'm so proud of him. The Braves are going to love him, and he's only going to get better."
Holland said that after arriving in Florida he will take a physical with team doctors and meet the training staff. The GCL season began on Monday and Holland is uncertain when he will make his first appearance.
"I should know within the next couple of days," Holland said. "I haven't experienced anything like this before. The competition is going to be crazy, a lot better."
Monell said he thinks Holland can handle it.
"I told him he's a nine-to-five baseball player now," Monell said. "To take care of his body, work hard, and stay hydrated because he's going to be playing day games in Florida now."
Holland said he plans on doing whatever it takes to succeed.
"I'm not only representing myself, but all of South Jersey and the town that I'm from, which is pretty cool to say," Holland said. "The label of saying you're a pro is insane. I'm getting paid to play the sport that I love."
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