Josh Holliday was an observant bat boy.
He was also a wise bat boy, because decades ago when Holliday traveled with the Oklahoma State baseball team retrieving foul balls and stray bats, he picked a good person to watch closely.
Holliday’s focus was on coach Tim Corbin, who at the time was an assistant coach for Clemson University. Corbin has since become one of the most successful baseball coaches of all time. He owns the highest winning percentage in college baseball history (.667) and has won two national championships.
He has also become a friend and a mentor to Holliday.
Their relationship will not be fazed, even when they become opponents this weekend, when Corbin’s Vanderbilt visits O’Brate Stadium.
Holliday’s first memory of Corbin was not from when Holliday was a coach or player, but a bat boy.
“I remember him as well from being a bat boy for the Cowboys, and being on the road once with my dad’s team and playing against Clemson,” Holliday said. “So I remembered who he was, and what he looked like and that was kind of my first interaction with him.”
It wasn’t long before the Cowboys bat boy grew up and drew interest from college coaches, and of course Corbin was one of them.
“Josh, I actually got to know when I was recruiting him when I was at Clemson,” Corbin said. “He was a Stillwater High School kid, but I saw him a lot at national events and certainly knew his dad.”
Holliday said he remembered Corbin for always being right up against the fence when there was anything worth watching.
“I think as a young player you can kind of remember people’s faces who stood out in the crowd,” Holliday said. “He at the time was working at a university that all players were interested in, Clemson.”
Although Corbin’s pitch was undoubtedly tempting and Clemson had much to offer young ballplayers, it couldn’t replace home. Holliday committed to play baseball at OSU, where his father, Tom, was head coach.
In the 1996 College World Series, Clemson defeated OSU 8-5 in extra innings, knocking the Cowboys out of the tournament. However, that game would not be the last time the two met on a diamond.
Becoming a coach
After spending two years playing professional baseball in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, Holliday returned in 2001 to the OSU baseball team as a student assistant coach. He coached with the Cowboys until 2004, then served stints coaching at North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, and Arizona State, where he met Corbin’s daughter, Molly.
Molly worked with the Sun Devils baseball team in operations and public relations, while Holliday was on the coaching staff.
“Coach Corbin actually came out to visit his daughter and then when he was there we had dinner and just reconnected,” Holliday said.
The timing couldn’t have been better for Holliday. When a position on the Vanderbilt staff opened in 2010, Corbin added Holliday to his staff.
“I’m sure the fact that we had come into contact with each other inside that calendar year probably made me more of an option, since he knew me,” Holliday said. “It was just a fit, Vanderbilt had something that I wanted.”
In the time Holliday spent on the Vanderbilt coaching staff, he learned much from Corbin. He said Corbin taught him how important it is to work hard, but also how important it is to love what you do.
Corbin is famous for his attention to detail; nothing goes unnoticed or unthought of. There’s a story of him teaching his team how to jump on the pile and celebrate properly, which is common when teams celebrate championships.
“He’s very intense and very focused and extremely organized, he has a crazy amount of discipline and keeps a super serious routine,” Holliday said, “but every now and then you can tell he wants to take a deep breath.”
It was in those moments of relaxation where the two coaches would swap stories late into the night, oftentimes over a pizza or a plate of nachos, where their friendship blossomed.
A family affair
The story of the Hollidays and the Corbins doesn’t stop with Josh and Tim.
Holliday said that he and his wife, Jenny, were fortunate to move to Nashville when they did, referring to their time at Vanderbilt as a wonderful family experience.
“(Nashville) was a great environment for us to raise our young children,” Holliday said. “At the time, Olivia was in elementary school, and Brady was a toddler. The way our program was run, our wives were able to be so much a part of what we were doing, and also our children.”
Corbin recalled a time when he and his wife Maggie asked Josh and Jenny Holliday out for dinner. The Corbins were surprised to see that the Hollidays had brought their children with them.
“Typically, when you ask people out to dinner, they don’t bring their kids nor do you want their kids… but the thing about it was we grew to love their kids immediately, but even more so today,” Corbin said. “They acted like adults, and I’ve never seen kids operate in that regard, so it just became very close with their kids, too.”
The most cherished times were when the families would vacation together in east Tennessee.
“For Christmas, (Corbin) would take us all out to Dollywood, which is an amusement park in the mountains of Tennessee, and we’d go to live music, ride roller coasters, eat pizza and just have fun, just enjoying each other,” Holliday said.
While at Vanderbilt coaching with Corbin, Holliday’s family was flourishing, he was having success on the field and he was having fun with his job.
“The joy of coaching was so apparent every single day. That was such an awesome time, I loved it there and had no desire to ever leave whatsoever if not for the chance to come to Oklahoma State,” Holliday said.
Similar to the decision he made 45 years earlier to pass on playing for Corbin at Clemson, Holliday would make the opportunistic choice in 2013, when the head coaching job at OSU opened up, to say goodbye to his friend and hello to Stillwater.
When Holliday took over the Cowboys, he lost no respect for the program and people he left behind. In fact, he partially leans on Corbin to find success of his own.
“It’s safe to say that there is a standard that I think Vanderbilt baseball has worked toward and achieved, Oklahoma State baseball is working towards and achieving,” Holliday said. “He does things the right way, and he’s a great example to everyone that plays for him or coaches with him on how to run an elite program.”
Holliday and Corbin speak regularly on the phone, sometimes three or four times a week.
Of course, when two baseball wizards get together, they can’t help but occasionally talk ball, but a lot of times they dial each other up just to share a good laugh, exchange an idea or check in on the other’s family.
Holliday finds that the frequent conversations with Corbin keep him in a positive frame of mind.
“A lot of times they are fun,” Holliday said. “He’s very funny and humorous. He’s just got a great way of keeping what we do lighthearted cause sometimes you can put extra pressure on yourself, or take things a little too seriously.”
Holliday keeps close tabs on how the Commodores are doing on the diamond. He said after he gets over the adrenaline rush of his own game, the Vanderbilt box score is the first one he always checks.
“That’s a healthy thing in my opinion,” Holiday said. “If you don’t have that lifelong attachment with places you’ve gone then that’s too bad, but I certainly have that.”
When friends become opponents
In 2018 OSU traveled to Nashville for two fall exhibition games. The series didn’t count toward either team's record.
The Cowboys are scheduled to host the Commodores for a three-game series this weekend in Stillwater, and this time it will count. It will be a showcase of two teams currently ranked inside the top 15 – Vanderbilt at No. 2 and OSU No. 13 – and a showdown between two dear friends.
Although the topic had not arisen on their weekly phone calls because each team had games to focus on prior to the series, Holliday said both coaches would be ready when the time comes.
Holliday and Corbin will spend time together this weekend outside of the O’Brate Stadium.
“I’m going to go say hi to (Corbin) and stick around on Thursday when they get in town, welcome him, their program and the people inside their program who I’m friends with,” Holliday said.
Whatever happens on the field this weekend, no matter how heated or competitive the environment is bound to get with two men who want so badly for their team to succeed, their relationship will remain steady.
There is little in this world that can shatter a friendship formed over decades and banded together by kid-friendly dinners, late-night nachos and trips to Dollyworld.
“We will compete hard between the lines, at the end of the day we’ll respect one another and move on down the road,” Holliday said.