Cornstubble, Holcomb form bond

Cornstubble, Holcomb form bond

While Dan Holcomb’s former Homer teammates in basketball and football were representing their school, the talented pitcher was spending his time in Grand Rapids working with professional coaches and trying to expand his mound repertoire.

Holcomb had a driving buddy for all those trips back and forth from Grand Rapids, which was about 100 miles each way. Catcher Dale Cornstubble, who was always a one-sport guy, was training with Holcomb at the Diamonds Sports Training Facility. While there was snow on the ground and baseball seemed a million miles away for most high schoolers in Michigan, Holcomb and Cornstubble were working on techniques and drills to improve themselves.

They were also developing an inseparable pitcher-catcher bond that went beyond the diamond.

On dozens of occasions over three-plus years, Holcomb and Cornstubble made the trek to the Diamond Sports complex. In the beginning, the boys’ fathers would drive Dale and Dan northwest, often in Dale Sr.’s 1998 Ford Explorer or wife Julie’s 2000 Chevrolet Impala. When Brent Holcomb drove, the boys would pack into the back of his Ford F-150.
Baseball talk flowed freely as the teenagers and their fathers found a way to kill nearly four hours roundtrip on the road. “Sometimes we would get up there three times a week,” Dale Cornstubble said.

Cornstubble, meanwhile, was learning new techniques on hitting and catching. He also went from being a scrawny little kid to impressive stature, thanks to working religiously with Casey Fisk, the Diamonds’ strength-training coach. Dale was widely being considered the best catching prospect in Michigan.

“Dale was flat out the best catch-and-throw guy I’ve ever seen at the high school level,” Peterson said. “He did things you just don’t see from a 17- or 18-year-old player. You could tell immediately that he was special.” Brett Allman, the Quincy coach who faced Homer twice each year in conference play, thought Cornstubble was the team’s “X” factor in terms of turning a very good team into a great one.

“Cornstubble was impressive,” Allman said. “As good as their pitching was, if you had someone behind the plate you can steal on, maybe you can manufacture a run here and there. But you had to have two or three hits in an inning to get a run across, and a lot of times you only had that many [hits] in the game. Their pitching was awful good but when you combine that with the catching behind the plate, it makes it so tough. They fed off Dale; he was one of their emotional leaders.”

Holcomb and Cornstubble were something of an odd couple. Holcomb, son of the superintendent, and Cornstubble, son of a school custodian, certainly had different upbringings. The Cornstubbles weren’t living in poverty, but they didn’t have a lot either. After Dale started as a freshman on the varsity, his father, Dale Sr., bought his son a $3,000 Jason Giambi Backyard Package, a batting cage that was set up behind the family’s garage. This was no small purchase for the family.

“I was 15 and supposed to be getting my license soon, but I never did because I got a batting cage,” Cornstubble says with a laugh. “No car for me until I was 17.”
Cornstubble made the most of his new toy, and then some. The summer after he got the cage, Dusty Compton was living at the Cornstubbles’ home and the two boys spent countless hours in the cage. They would crank the pitching machine as high as it would go just to see if they could get their bats around on the speedy balls. When Dale was sick of hitting, he’d adjust the pitching arm downward, put on his catching gear, and work for hours on blocking balls in the dirt (or cement, as it were).

Backyard practice at Dale’s didn’t end when the weather turned chilly either. “Me and Compton were crazy. We used to go out there with stocking caps on and three sweatshirts and we’d go hit. That’s just what we lived for.”

After the boys turned 16, they would often travel to Grand Rapids by themselves in Alice Holcomb’s Infinity.
At first, Dan preferred rap music while Dale liked his rock and country. “By the end, all I listened to was rock and country after hanging out with him,” Holcomb said.

Even when they were in Homer, Holcomb and Cornstubble were spending more and more time together. When they weren’t playing baseball, they were hunting deer, pheasants, or squirrels. Or fishing or playing video games. Cornstubble bought the 2K3 Baseball for his Microsoft XBox, and the friends would make teams and play entire seasons on the video system.
Despite Dan’s status as son of the superintendent, that fact never got in the way of friendship. “Dan was never the kid to brag about all that stuff, not even a little bit,” Dale said.

The odd couple formed a dynamic duo at 60 feet, 6 inches away from each other on a baseball diamond. The two players knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses so well, it was like having another coach in between the lines. No topic, good or bad, was out of bounds. “If he called a pitch that I didn’t want to throw, he’d get mad at me,” Dan said.
“Or if something would happen [negatively], I’d blame it on him. He’d come out to the mound and start yelling at me and I’d start yelling at him. Everyone thought it was just like a boyfriend-girlfriend fight or a husband-wife fight so we got razzed about that.”

As Holcomb and Cornstubble worked on their individual games, Homer’s baseball team was getting better in the process. With every nugget of instruction from the pros at Diamonds, the two players were learning things that would help the Trojans once the high school season started.

Every time Holcomb or Cornstubble got better, so did the Homer Trojans. Holcomb was throwing in the high 80s and adding complementary pitches.
Cornstubble, like his teammate, chose to end the recruiting process early and committed to Central Michigan where he would rejoin Josh Collmenter.

All in all, Homer’s odd couple was primed for huge senior years. That should’ve been a scary thought for future opponents.