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Departing Holm brings 'different energy' to Batavia baseball

Batavia baseball coach Matt Holm does it all for his team, even dragging the field before the Bulldogs' April 21 home game against St. Charles East. After 24 years in charge of the program, Holm will retire at the end of the season.
Batavia baseball coach Matt Holm does it all for his team, even dragging the field before the Bulldogs' April 21 home game against St. Charles East. After 24 years in charge of the program, Holm will retire at the end of the season.

BATAVIA – Matt Holm bleeds Batavia.

After playing sports as a Bulldog and graduating in the class of 1987, Holm has spent the past 24 years as head coach of the Batavia baseball team.

That long run will come to an end as Holm told his team prior to the season that he will retire after the 2016 campaign.

"If there was one word to describe coach Holm, it's 'passion,' " senior outfielder Kyle Niemiec said. "Being around him so much, he's just a man that changes your life. There's a different energy when he's in the room. Everyone has the utmost respect for coach Holm. He's been here for so long and baseball is his love. He has always told us that."

Niemiec has been around Holm more than just at the baseball diamond, as Holm also the Batavia football team's longtime defensive coordinator.

Although Niemiec was a quarterback and did not work exclusively with Holm during football season, the relationship the two have built during Niemiec's time at Batavia was hard for the senior to put into words.

"He's really become a father figure in my life," Niemiec said. "He's one of the people in our school system and of all the coaches that I could go to with any problem. I've told him that. I appreciate everything he's done for me and I want to thank him because him and my father have made me person I am today. Through all of the life lessons and his personality, it's made me into a better person and man having been around him for four years."

That's one of the biggest takeaways from all of Holm's former players and even opposing coaches.

One former player, 2008 Batavia graduate Alex Beckmann, is now an assistant coach, and Holm had one request before talking to anyone about leaving.

"'Beck' is going to take over," Holm said after a game against St. Charles East this season. "I wanted to make sure of that before anything. I know the kind of guy Alex is and I know the program will be in good hands."

Part of this season has revolved around the coaching transition, although Holm, who guided Batavia to a Class AA state tournament berth in 2004, has never been one to defer any of the attention from his players.

Holm, 47, is usually the third base coach for the Bulldogs, and has been for a number of his head coaching years. Beckmann became third base coach this season, one of the examples of allowing Beckmann to continue to learn under someone he looks up to quite a bit.

"He's a great guy to learn from with all of the experience he has," Beckmann said. "I've known Matt for a long, long time and it really means the world for me that he has confidence to put a program he built in my hands.

"He really shows you that moniker of a Battlin' Bulldog all the time. He's a tough, hard-nosed guy, but something that is so important to him is making sure his players become better men. I think that's something I'll take away most from him and what most of his players remember about him."

Kaneland coach Brian Aversa has had the luxury of playing and coaching against Holm. Aversa, a 1997 Geneva graduate, played for the Vikings during Holm's tenure and has recently coached in nonconference matchups between the Knights and the Bulldogs after the schools were once league foes.

Both Aversa and East coach Len Asquini had nothing but good things to say about Holm, although both agreed it will be sad to see Holm go at the end of the season.

"You don't like to lose guys that make the game of baseball fun. That's Matt," Asquini said. "We're around the same age and have a similar mentality to the game. Matt is a blue-collar kind of guy and that really reflects in how his players play the game. All the characteristics of that he has are portrayed onto his kids, and it has been like that for years. It always makes it more difficult to coach against."

"It's all about hard work with Matt, and he's definitely someone I look up to as a coach because of that," Aversa said. "Nothing is given to the players. He's passionate about the game and whether his kids are the most talented or not, he's going to get everything out of every group he coaches."

With three children of his own – the youngest will head to Illinois State University in the fall – Holm was asked what his plans are now or the motivation for retirement other than the amount of time he's spent at Batavia. A smile cracked through his ever-noticeable, lengthy beard before his answer.

"I've got plans," said Holm, who added he prefers to address his career more in-depth at season's end.

While he may "plan" to retire from coaching, many agree it will be hard for Holm to stay away from a place he's lived and breathed sports for 24 years.

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