Fall Classic becomes Soldotna family affair

World Series unites three generations

Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2001

Among the cheers, signs and purple-painted faces that made up Section 108, three men sat sharing their first, and most likely last, World Series game together.

They are a father, son and grandson who understand the importance of sitting side-by-side on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The three were at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix, watching game one between the hometown Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees Oct. 27.

They know life doesn't offer many times like this.

"It's just a special moment," said Jerry Holly Jr., a Soldotna excavator. "I didn't want my father leaving this earth without going to a World Series game. We're here, man, and I can't hardly believe this. This is just a dream come true.

"How many times do you get to go to the World Series?"

Between Holly and his son, Ben, sits 86-year-old Jerry Holly Sr., of Mesa, Ariz. He's a retired road builder who spent much of his life moving dirt and laying concrete in Alaska so people could get to the state's oil-rich fields.

"He's a hard nut to crack," his son says. "The older he gets the more mellow he gets. He'll take whatever he's dealt. He's always been that way."

This summer, while he was visiting Jerry Jr. and Ben in their hometown of Soldotna, he began experiencing chest pains. X-rays showed a cancerous lump on his lung. Sadly enough, it was about the size of a baseball.

"Right then, I promised him that if either the Diamondbacks or Seattle Mariners got to the World Series, that we'd go," Jerry Jr. said.

The three tickets to game one cost Jerry Jr. $850 apiece -- a small price to pay to see the look on his father's face.

"Just sitting there, he was grinning continuously," he said.

Ben agreed.

"Of all the sports, grandpa's always loved baseball, and to be able to go see a team from his home state ... was real special."

After the lump was found, Jerry Sr. returned to his home near the second tee of Sunland Village golf course in Mesa to begin chemotherapy treatments.

Jerry Jr. said his father will be lucky to get back to his Soldotna homestead on Whisper Lake next summer.

"He's definitely got terminal cancer," Jerry Jr. said. "A doctor in Mesa said he's got 10 months, but the way I look at it -- the only way you can look at it -- is I could die before he does."

Jerry Jr. said his father is the youngest and last surviving of his eight siblings.

"He's really feeling well, and I'm sure he feels lucky to get as far as he has," Jerry Jr. said. "All his brothers were gone in their 50s and one at 62. He's the youngest of nine and he made it to 86."

While he can move around all right most days, Jerry Sr. sometimes loses his balance. The wide white bandage around his wrist is there because he fell in the garage.

But that doesn't matter, it's the D-Backs and the Yankees, it's him, his son and Benny.

"If it wasn't for my son, I probably wouldn't be here," Jerry Sr. says, adding he has 25 great-grandchildren and upward of 15 grandkids.

"It was real important to me to go on this trip with my dad and grandpa," Ben said.

He said he was concerned about his grandfather having to walk too far from his wheelchair to his seat in the stadium, but said Bank One Ballpark staff were very helpful.

"It was really set up good for people who need a wheelchair. We pushed him to his seat, and they had a place to store it," Ben said. "And they have people there to help him get up if he needs to."

While watching batting practice down the first-base line, the three rewind through their lives.

All of them are working men. Jerry Jr. has been a contractor for 26 years. Ben just started in the business.

Jerry Sr.'s eyes dance when he remembers supervising the first oil road built in the Alaska winter at Swanson River.

"It was 40- or 50-below. It was 25 miles and took three months," he said.

"Dad was the foreman on that road to the first production oil well in Alaska, for Birch Lyle and Green Construction," Jerry Jr. said. "It was pretty significant that he was part of that. It was the beginning of many roads to come."

Jerry Jr. said that he was a superintendent on a section of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline in the mid-1970s.

"And dad came up and worked for me one summer," he said. "So he was at both ends (of oil exploration), the beginning and the end."

Jerry Jr., was the only one who played ball. As a teenager, he was in the Pony League.

"Your jersey number was 9," Jerry Sr., quickly pointed out correctly.

The family got their love of baseball from Jerry's wife, Vi, who died in 1992. They used to follow the Peninsula Oilers of the Alaska Baseball League. The team was so successful it often went to the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan., and Jerry Sr. and his wife followed many times.

Ben said his grandfather even groomed the grass the first year the Oilers played in Kenai.

Jerry Sr. became a snowbird in 1958, spending winters in Mesa and summers in Alaska. When the Diamondbacks were created in 1998, he became a fan.

When Vi passed away, he met a woman his age who he calls "a good friend of mine." She lost her husband in 1995.

"We don't raise too much trouble," he says. "She's a wonderful lady."

When the Diamondbacks became National League champions, Jerry Jr. got on his computer and found three tickets. It worked out perfectly. The three wouldn't have to drive any farther than Jerry Sr. could handle.

Jerry Jr. and Ben left Alaska's freezing climate of 15-below Oct. 26 and wound up sitting in balmy 78-degree weather.

"There's nothing like a baseball game, the smell, the noise," 37-year-old Ben said. "I've been to everything but professional hockey, and this is the best fans' sport."

Jerry Sr.'s lump is smaller, but he still has to have shots in his arm every week for a month. He was due to start chemo again three weeks ago.

During the seventh-inning stretch, the three stood and sang "God Bless America" and "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Jerry Jr. claps during the baseball song. His father belts it out with his hands in his pockets.

"He barked like a fox," Jerry Jr. says.

Though the doctors said not to do it, the son and grandson bought Jerry Sr. a beer and a hot dog in the fourth inning.

For the record, all three relished it.

After winning the opening two games at home, the D-Backs lost three close games to the Bronx Bombers at Yankee Stadium before winning the last two at home to win the Series 4-3.

"It looked pretty bleak with the Yankees pulling out three back east, but dad was delighted and elated Arizona pulled together and took the last two games," Jerry Jr. said. "After game seven, he was just elated."

"People should take advantage of opportunities like this when they have them," Ben said.

"It may be an inconvenience, but the pain of regret for not doing it is worse."

Reprinted by permission of the East Valley Tribune.

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