When East Central Community College baseball coach Neal Holliman woke up Saturday morning, he had a text from former player Tim Anderson.
The Chicago White Sox shortstop was informing Holliman that he had been named to the MLB All-Star baseball game, replacing Houston’s Jose Altuve.
After being one of the best hitters in the American League the last three years and winning the 2019 AL batting title, Holliman said he was beyond excited for his former player.
“I was pumped,” Holliman said. “He contacted me on Friday and told me he was going to make the all-star game. I thought he was deserving. The numbers show that but there are so many things that go into it. I was watching a Frank Thomas interview and he was saying how much he deserved it. He has the highest batting average in the major leagues since 2019. How that’s not an all-star, I don’t know. But I’m pumped for him.”
Holliman said he and his wife quickly made plans to make the trip to Coors Field in Denver to watch Anderson.
“He told me if I made it to Denver, he would get me in the game,” Holliman said. “We just came from seeing him play. We watched him play three games in Chicago and then watching him play one game in Detroit.”
Holliman said he remembers when he “stumbled” upon Anderson was recruiting another player at Hillcrest in Tuscaloosa.
“We were very fortunate,” Holliman said. “I was recruiting a player at Hillcrest in Tuscaloosa and the head coach told me that his best player was still in basketball. He was the point guard on the basketball team and they won the state championship that year and he was late getting to baseball. The first time I saw him play, he hit two home runs. He was playing second and the other guy was playing shortstop. I knew he could run and I knew he could hit.”
Holliman ended up offering Anderson and went back to watch him a few more times that season.
“I like to go see them a couple of times after we sign them to support them,” Holliman said. “I came back after one of those trips and told my staff that we had signed the right guy. Shelton State was right across the street and didn’t offer him. He played baseball growing up as a kid in Hale County but moved to Hillcrest because they had a better basketball program. But he missed baseball his ninth and 10th grade years because he had a stress fracture. So nobody really knew anything about him. So he was hidden a little bit and we got really fortunate.”
Once Anderson got to East Central, he didn’t immediately stand out. As a matter of fact, Holliman said he had Anderson at shortstop up until a few weeks before his freshman season.
“We were playing him at second and center field and then about two weeks before the season opened, my shortstop go the yips and couldn’t make the throw to first,” Holliman said. “I brought them in and told them we were going to make the switch and Tim really didn’t want to do it. He said he hadn’t played shortstop since he was 13. But when we did make the switch, the rest his history as they say. I obviously had no idea he could play short and certainly not at the level he did.”
His freshman season, Anderson hit an astonishing .495 with 10 home runs, 11 triples and 18 doubles with 41 stolen bases. He was named the MACJC Male Athlete of the Year.
“When we put him at short, you would just see him do stuff that you had never seen him do before,” Holliman said. “It seemed like every week, he was doing stuff that we had never seen him do before. Some guys come to us and show some early improvement and then plateau pretty quickly. He didn’t have a plateau, he just got better and better every week.”
Anderson didn’t get drafted after his freshman year but started drawing major interest from MLB teams. Holliman said Anderson started off his sophomore season by going 7-for-8 with three home runs in a doubleheader. Before the end of the season, Holliman said there would be days with more than 25 scouts at the game. The Detroit Tigers once sent eight scouts to look at Anderson.
“It never changed him or his approach,” Holliman said. “We were getting ready for a game and I was throwing to him in the cage. There were several scouts watching him hit and I told him that he might want to let loose with the scouts watching. He told me he didn’t care, that he had a game to get ready for. That’s just how he was.”
With the Sox
Anderson joined the White Sox in 2016 when he played 99 games. In his fourth season with the Sox, Anderson had a breakout season, hitting .335 to lead the AL. He hit .322 last season in a COVID-shortened season and is hitting .309 this season.
Anderson learned he had been named to the All-star game in the locker room on Friday.
“I’m happy, I’ve been working my whole career, my whole life to get to this point,” Anderson was quoted as saying in the Chicago Tribune. “Now I have to continue to keep working. Finally get All-Star under my belt. That’s pretty cool.”
Anderson is currently sixth in the AL in batting average and will join three other White Sox at the game.
“It’s going good,” Anderson said of his 2021 season. “For the third straight year, just to continue to keep growing as a player and as a person. The numbers are there, the game is there. I don’t really have to say much. If you watch White Sox baseball every game, you know what I’m coming to the field to do and what I’m capable of doing.
“It’s even sweeter because I came up in this organization, to grow up in front of these fans in this organization says a lot. The grind is real. I put the work in. I continue to try to get better day in and day out. And it don’t stop. I have to keep pushing to be the best I can be.”
Holliman said that workman’s mentality has served Anderson well in the majors.
“To be myself, always kept it 100, kept it real, I never switched, I always stayed me throughout it all,” Anderson said. “Just go out and work every day, bring what I got to the ballpark day in and day out. Couldn’t be in a better place right now.
“But I always kept working, I always let my game do the talking, not really talk about things that are out of my control. All I can do is control the way I play and the way I go about my business. To finally be able to get in, it definitely means a lot, and I’m excited and I’m going to go there with the same energy I have here, enjoy it. Not everybody gets to be All-Stars, so I’m very excited. Proud. Proud of this moment.”