Rocky Mountain State’s Most Dominant Travel Organization, Success Was Bred in Failure
It’s not uncommon to hear it spoken in places far away from the diamond. It can be referenced during a national sales convention, passed on in a one-on-one discussion between guidance counselor and to-be graduate, or reassured by a parent looking to pick the chin up of a teenager after a not-so-good driver’s education course. The success rate, or lack thereof, by a professional baseball player is summed up in the adage ‘even hall of famers fail seven times out of ten times.’ There will be failures in life, the adage makes clear, but it is not the end-all, there are more opportunities to come.
In short, nobody bats. 1.000, but as long as one learns and evolves, success will come.
Few know this fact of life better than Slammers Baseball President Mark Holzemer. Drafted in the fourth round of the 1987 MLB Draft by the California Angels, Holzemer spent 18 years as a professional pitcher, pitching in the big leagues in parts of six seasons with the Angels, Oakland Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies and Seattle Mariners. On the mound, it was Holzemer’s job to make sure at-bats ended in failure for the opposing batter. If it did not, if he were to fail, he was to learn from the mistake come right back at the next batter. That mentality has benefitted him off the field.
Upon retiring in 2002, Holzemer joined his former high school teammate, Clint Zavaras, who owned the Slammers. Zavaras was also once big leaguer, pitching the 1989 season for the Mariners, over a nine-year professional career. While Holzemer and Zavaras both reach the pinnacle of baseball, now lead the Rocky Mountain State’s most dominant travel organization, the success was bred in failure.
“I worked out (there) in the offseason, saw what he had going on with the business,” said Holzemer of first taking in Zavaras’ baseball business, which started in 1998. “He kind of started growing, doing team sales and retail, a little bit of everything, not just lessons.
“Then I retired in 2002, I started working Slammers. I bought in and was working day in and day out down there. I kind of saw some of the mistakes we made. We tried everything, were trying all kinds of stuff, just to make sure we had a good business going. Like I said, we made a lot of mistakes.”
Eventually Slammers would move away from team sales and retail, and focused on what was at the core of Holzemer and Zavaras: baseball.
“We finally decided we weren't good at retail, we weren't good at team sales, but what we were good at was teaching kids and coaching kids,” Holzemer said. “We had a couple of summer teams and a couple of fall teams. We started a youth program, because people told us we did a good job coaching, we should do the same but do it with younger kids. So we started doing that.”
Selling off the team sales and retail businesses, Slammers took on the hat of being a facility which houses elite travel teams. Being baseball people who were back to being people of the game with lessons and operating teams, it didn’t take long for Slammers to establish itself.
Growing, Slammers moved into their current space in Englewood, Colorado, a 22,000-square foot home, a little less than six years ago, and now have opened a second facility in Broomfield. The two facilities support 14 high school-aged travel teams and a youth program 43-team strong.
“From the standpoint of us, working with kids, and being able around kids. I think we're good coaches because of our pro experience. And let's be honest, the failures we had in our pro lives,” Holzemer said. “Anybody who's played pro baseball for a long time has a lot of failure. Sure, you might have success, but you fail a lot. I think it humbles you. You can relate to kids.”
The success the Slammers have had in relating to kids, and in turn, doing whatever is necessary to aiding the pursuit of their goals, is unparalleled in Colorado. There were 35 members who of the Slammers who graduated from high school in 2016, 34 went on to play college. For the to-be graduating class of 2017, 34 students played baseball with the Slammers and 33 are set to continue their playing career in college.
“We've been known for developing pitchers,” Holzemer said. “From a standpoint, talk to scouts, they want to see arms. From that standpoint, we've got a lot of the best pitchers over the years to come here.” But the Slammers know it would all go for naught if they find, bring in and develop the best arms, but do not provide them with the chance to fully maximize their potential and play at the next level.
“The biggest thing for us, the word that gets thrown around so much, is exposure. For us in Colorado, we only have two Division I schools in the state. Realistically, we only have one, the University of Northern Colorado, the other is the Air Force Academy, that's a special kid that's going to go get in there, and would only want to go there. So we have to get out of state. We have to go to the right events.”
It’s taken time, and failures, but Holzemer has the Slammers in the place where they are going to the right places, they are developing players, they operate a youth academy, players are advancing to the next level, and there are none who can match the Slammers success.
“A lot of the failures we made, kind of learning and figuring out the business..At the end of the day, you still have to take care of the kids, you still have to do a good job. We still have to help these guys with recruiting and help them through that process, keep evolving, because if you don't…”
That’s when true failure sets in, and Holzemer and the Slammers won’t have any of that.