Eleven days after Mario Hollands became a major-league player, he pulled a box filled with books from his locker at Citizens Bank Park. Classes for the spring quarter at the Los Angeles-based Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising started April 10, and the lefthanded pitcher had reading assignments.
Hollands is months away from a second college degree, this one an associate of arts in merchandise marketing with a professional designation. He foraged through the box and found course materials for MRCH 2820: Merchandise Allocation and MRCH 2200: Merchandise Buying. The online classes teach students how to predict fashion trends through understanding market analysis and business strategies.
"It's kind of a struggle doing homework," Hollands said. "But it's a nice escape after games to get my mind off baseball."
Hollands is a laid-back Californian, and that's why his quasi-homecoming to Dodger Stadium this week is special. The journey was so improbable. He slept on couches in each of the last two seasons while the Phillies shuttled him among four minor-league affiliates. He arrived at spring training as a veritable unknown and won a roster job when he revealed a deceptive 93-m.p.h. fastball. He did it all while taking online classes.
More than 50 friends and family members will go to Chavez Ravine to celebrate Hollands' coronation as a big-leaguer. But Hollands, 25, knows this life is fleeting. That is why he decided long ago to prepare for a second career while chasing his first dream.
"Oh, I know I'm the only one in baseball pursuing a fashion degree," Hollands said. "That's very . . . when I told everyone in spring training, they were extremely surprised. I didn't tell many people about it, even though it's almost been two years."
Hollands started classes for his merchandise marketing degree late in 2012. He appeared at every level for the Phillies that season. They shipped him to whatever minor-league team required pitching help. While at double-A Reading, he resided in the living room of an apartment shared by David Buchanan, Tyson Gillies, and Trevor May. They dumped a queen-size mattress in the room and hung a sheet to give Hollands some privacy.
Triple-A Lehigh Valley needed a spot starter at the end of the season; Hollands was the choice despite unimpressive numbers at Reading. Hollands posted a 9.24 ERA in three triple-A starts.
Rod Nichols, the Phillies bullpen coach, was then the IronPigs pitching coach. He did not recognize Hollands this spring. His fastball velocity went from 86 m.p.h. to 93 m.p.h. "He was a great kid," Nichols remembered. "A hard worker. But his stuff was below par."
He bounced between single-A Clearwater and Reading in 2013. Once, Hollands said, he wrote a paper for one of his fashion classes during a lengthy bus ride. He was left unprotected in December's Rule 5 draft, but the Phillies still extended an invitation to major-league spring training. Team officials credited a winter spent playing in Venezuela for Hollands' rise. "I've just gotten better," he said. The lefty grew from when he was drafted - he's now 6-foot-5, 220 pounds - and more strength added speed to his fastball.
"He found it," Nichols said.
Both Ryne Sandberg and Bob McClure were smitten in spring training. While Hollands won a spot on the team, he completed final exams for his winter quarter classes. That same effectiveness transferred into April. Hollands has a 2.45 ERA in eight games and immediately was trusted in important situations. His teammates, first shocked at Hollands' revelation of his second passion, have embraced it along with the zeroes he compiles on the mound. They tease him, too.
"The other night in the bullpen, he gave us tips on how to fold shirts," Nichols said with a smile. "We were interested."
Baseball ostracizes the unusual, although Hollands is that. He earned a sociology degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara, while pitching for the Gauchos. A Fox Sports survey conducted in May 2012 found just 4.3 percent of major-league players had a degree from a four-year college. The Phillies have three: Hollands, John Mayberry Jr. (political science at Stanford), and B.J. Rosenberg (sports administration at Louisville).
The lure of professional baseball is often too strong. Players can be drafted from high school, after any season at a junior college, and after their junior and senior years at a four-year school. Hollands was selected in the 24th round by Minnesota after his junior season, but he said he returned to school - in part - to graduate on time. The Phillies picked him in the 10th round of the 2010 draft.
"He's always had a unique demeanor about him," said John Kirkgard, one of Hollands' former coaches at UCSB and now his financial planner. "He's a calming personality."
A big-leaguer working toward a second degree is even rarer. Hollands said he completes most of his coursework in the mornings. "It's interesting, too," Hollands said. "It's not tedious or too straining." His most challenging class, he said, was GNST 1440: Textile Science. He had to memorize about 500 pages of fabric swatches.
"You learn about every material ever made," Hollands said. "Printing properties. The way some fabrics are made in textiles. It makes you think more about clothes when you're buying them. It's pretty cool."
Hollands does not want to design. When baseball ends, he plans to work in the fashion business, maybe something to do with merchandise buying. He said the industry was always a passion while he was growing up near San Francisco and attending college outside Los Angeles.
"I just want to make sure I have options," Hollands said, "when baseball is over."
The Phillies will play in Atlanta on June 18, the day spring classes at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising conclude. Hollands, who hopes to be at Turner Field, will secure his second degree then. For now, another career can wait.