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Effingham Magazine

NATURALLY GOOD: Effingham Two-Way Baseball Player Eying Pro Career

Story by Stephen Prudhomme | Photos by Tonya Perry

When Carter Holton was 6 years old, he was playing catch with his father when he was hit in the face with a baseball. Although the impact of rawhide meeting flesh made him cry, the youngster, wiping tears from his face, resumed the game of catch.

Eleven years later, Carter is likely making opposing players cry in frustration after he strikes them out with a fastball in the 90s or smacks a game-winning home run.

Dubbed “The Natural” by Savannah sportscaster Frank Sulkowski, the 17-year-old Guyton resident is a real-life Roy Hobbs who doesn’t need stunts or special effects to produce a game-winning homer and the perfect Hollywood ending.

Carter is a rising senior at Benedictine Military Academy who pitches and plays first base and outfield on the school’s baseball team. Before this season was cut short by the pandemic, he continued the two-way dominance that earned him Savannah Morning News Player of the Year honors in 2018-19.

In 2018, Carter pitched a perfect game against Statesboro at Grayson Stadium, striking out 17. Along with the aforementioned Player of the Year honors, he also was named Region Player of the Year in 2018-19, 2018 Georgia Dugout Player of the Year, 2019 Team Georgia member, and a two-time participant in the FCA All Star Game.

“I’ve been coaching high school baseball for over 20 years and seen a lot of good players,” said Benedictine baseball coach Kevin Farmer, noting Carter pitched a no-hitter against Oconee County this season. “He’s a special player. He works hard and is humble, and his baseball IQ is off the charts. He knows how to play the game.”

A left-handed pitcher, the 5-foot-11 Carter throws in the low 90s and has been clocked as high as 97 mph. Rome Dean—a former teammate at Benedictine—has faced Carter in intrasquad games.

“He’s one of the top pitchers I’ve ever faced,” said Dean, a 2020 graduate who played shortstop and third base. “He has a big change of speed from his curveball, change up and fastball and keeps you off balance. His fastball tails a lot. I think he’s ready to play pro ball.”

Although Carter’s an outstanding hitter with power, his pitching is likely the ticket that will help him realize his dream of playing Major League Baseball.

“Carter has the pitches and control,” Farmer said. “He knows how to set up pitches and is strategic on the mound. He works fast and stays in rhythm.”

Falling in Love with the Game

The aforementioned game of catch with his dad came three years after Carter discovered baseball. “I fell in love with it,” said Carter, whose inspiration was an older brother who played baseball. “Since I loved it so much, I worked at it. It was all I knew.”

Carter’s father, Carl, said his son would watch a game on TV and then go out and try and replicate the plays. His resolve to keep on playing despite being hit in the face when he was 6 convinced Carl that Carter could go a long way in baseball. Carl coached his son until he was 12 years old. Carter has played travel ball since he was 7 years old.

For the past two years—playing Team League Baseball— he’s been coached by Jamie Crane. An associate scout with the Atlanta Braves, Crane said Carter, beyond his talent, is very mature and advanced as far as the game. He added he doesn’t get too high or too low.

Complementing his maturity, calm makeup and understanding of the game are some outstanding physical skills. “Carter’s one of our best pitchers,” Crane said. “He has really good command and is ultracompetitive. He has a very quick arm. Carter’s a throwback hitter who feeds on fastballs and really mashes them. He’s a difference maker for us. He’s also very humble and such a good kid and teammate.”

The Next Steps

Along with his baseball talent, Carter’s an excellent student who had over 30 scholarship offers and wants to major in sports medicine. He chose Vanderbilt, a school known for academics and its strong baseball program, after giving a verbal commitment several years ago. Among its alumni is David Price, a hard-throwing lefty who helped the Boston Red Sox win a World Series before signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“They win all the time,” said Carter, explaining his choice of Vanderbilt. “They have too-notch coaching and facilities. I love to win. The academics are also important.” Although he just started playing in tournaments again and missed some 30 games due to the pandemic, Carter said he’s in the same position as the other players. The time off, it seems, didn’t affect him on the mound or at the plate.

At a tournament in Emerson, Ga., in three games, he struck out four in two innings and batted .428 with three home runs. Carter’s ultimate goal, however, is to play professionally. Scouts come to his games, and Carter said he’s heard they like what they see so far.

Although Carter looks up to Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, saying the lefty has a really good curveball and controls the game well, he aspires to play for a team closer to home. “I’d like to play for the Atlanta Braves,” Carter said. “That would mean a lot. Family and friends could come see me play pretty easily.”

Carl said his son always had a goal of playing baseball. Although his older son was a talented player, Carl said he didn’t share Carter’s dream of making it to the big leagues. Recruited by Georgia, Georgia Tech, Clemson, USC and Tennessee—among others— Carter chose Vanderbilt.

“His dream was Vanderbilt,” Carl said. “They have a strong baseball program. They’re also strong academically. He’s a very smart kid. He takes honors classes.” Add to that a great attitude. “I hardly ever see him get frustrated,” Carl said. “He has a lot of self-discipline.”

While Carter admires Kershaw, his dad said he evokes comparisons to another left-handed pitcher, one who is in the Hall of Fame as a member of the Atlanta Braves and helped the team win its lone World Series title in 1995. “He reminds me of Tom Glavine,” Carl said. “He just doesn’t throw the ball. He has great control.” And power. “Throwing has always come natural to an extent,” Carter said. “I do long toss and just try and throw a lot and keep my legs strong.”

How It All Began

Just to think, it all started with a game of catch and a ball hitting tender flesh rather than the mitt that would have convinced many 6-year-olds to take up another avocation. Perhaps tennis or basketball, where the ball’s not as hard. Then again, Carter, as he’s demonstrated throughout his life, stands out from the crowd. It’s going to take more than a ball to the face to knock him out of the batter’s box or off the mound.

“I knew he was special when I saw him wiping tears from his face after being hit with the baseball,” Carl said. “I thought to myself this kid is going somewhere. He has the competitiveness, the will and desire to play baseball.” Carl will have to remain the authority on that game of catch from yesteryear when Carter displayed uncommon resolve and a love of the game as a 6-year-old. “Honestly, I don’t remember being hit with the ball,” Carter said. “I’m sure it happened.”

Carter also plays basketball; he played his sophomore year at Benedictine after being injured as a freshman. He said he plays everywhere and shoots pretty well. Baseball remains his first love, however. “It’s quick moving,” Carter said; when it’s mentioned that many criticize baseball for being too slow, Carter amended his statement and noted it can be quick moving. “It keeps me in shape.”

Carter doesn’t limit his labors to the baseball diamond and mound. He also works at the Shell House, doing some cooking and preparing salads. Carter also likes to help out in the community by helping out at school baseball camps. This includes working with youngsters on an individual basis who want to follow him to the mound. “I know they look up to me,” Carter said. “It’s teaching the next generation.”