Born and raised in Redlands, CA, Bulldogs baseball coach Aaron Holley has a long history and deep connection with this town, as well as with the University of Redlands. A former student of the UoR himself, he has spent a cumulative 18 years (half his lifetime) attending and working at the University of Redlands, and has spent the last six of them in the position of head coach. During an interview with the Redlands Bulldog, I inquired into what qualities about Redlands have kept him here all these years, and what he loves so much about the town. Although he cited family and friends as a primary factor for his continued presence here, he also noted that Redlands, despite its growth, still has a small town feel and strong sense of community.
“The University of Redlands is just a special place … it’s hard for me to see myself anywhere else,” Holley said.
As he reminisced about lost orange groves and his childhood, he began to go deeper into the story that led to him coaching for the U of R. A former athlete himself, Holley played football, baseball, basketball, and wrestled at Redlands East Valley High School. Due to his strong athletic record, he was recruited by the U of R to come play football, but ended up staying to play baseball. Holley originally came into school with the intention of pursuing a career as a firefighter, but unexpectedly fell into coaching after his former head baseball coach asked him if he wanted to help coach the team. He accepted the position and from there he fell in love.
“It was just really fun, and something I could see myself doing as a full time job,” Holley said.
The year before last, the Bulldogs baseball team — led by coach Holley — had a record breaking year.
“The year before was the best year in school history, we won thirty-three games, won our conference, and set a bunch of school records,” Holley said.
The seniors on that team were made up of Holley’s first recruiting class, and he said that seeing them have that success was extremely fulfilling as a coach. For many, he says, “their careers aren’t over.” With pride he described one former student who is pitching for the Padres minor league organization, and a catcher who is playing professionally down in Mexico.
“The legacy still stays with them, and it’s awesome … seeing those guys continue their career. I hope … the future continues to look bright, and I’m hoping for good things this year,” Holley said.
Holley praised the sense of community at the University, but also said that “it can improve” through increased involvement in athletics and sports events. He stated that he believes athletics could be the catalyst for further uniting the community, citing that sports can be a common interest that ties people together. As an athletic department, he hopes to involve more of the outside community. Holley drew on personal experience, saying:
“As far as the campus community, I felt like when I went here … it was cool to be able to be friends with a bunch of different people regardless of … if they played a sport or not.”
He believes the small campus size has been pivotal in fostering a more tight knit sense of community, both when he was a student and today.
When asked about his favorite thing about coaching at the University of Redlands, Holley cited “the quality of student athlete that we get to coach.”
“I think University of Redlands draws good people, just period,” he said.
Holley explained that many of his closest friends were made at the U of R, and he doesn’t know of many other baseball programs that have such a tight knit alumni community, and have continued to stay close in the way that he’s experienced at Redlands. From the baseball field to the university to the town of Redlands itself, one thing is clear: in the eyes of Coach Holley, community is what sets us apart from the others.
Photograph by Kyle Eaton