This year has not gone as planned for Holden Lazarus. The Ithaca baseball star was primed for a senior season to remember, as he was named the top position player prospect in New York prior to the season by Prospects Live. A strong senior year could have led him to a selection in the 2020 MLB Draft. However, COVID-19 dashed those plans, and now, Lazarus must change his course.
First, the Section IV spring season was canceled a few months ago, taking away the opportunity for Lazarus to showcase the improvements he had made and the chance for Ithaca to win its first Section IV Championship in over three decades. Then, the MLB Draft went from 40 rounds to just five.
With only one-eighth of the typical number of players being selected, teams focused on drafting college players rather than unproven high schoolers. In total, high school athletes accounted for 45 out of the 160 total players that were selected on June 10 and 11.
Now the plan for Lazarus is to attend Gulf Coast State College alongside teammate Andrew Alise for one year and then transfer to defending national runner-up Michigan University. Given that this was far from what Lazarus had pictured for 2020, he addressed the inability to play baseball.
“It was awful,” Lazarus said. “I just wanted to play this season. It was going be a great season. We had a great team. Instead, I got school at home, not allowed to see any of my friends, no baseball, nothing to do for a few weeks. It was awful. Honestly, I hated it.”
Ithaca had just settled on a roster for the season when all spring sports were canceled. In fact, the Little Red were together when the news broke.
“I remember I was at Buffalo Wild Wings with my whole team,” Lazarus said. “It was after tryouts. We found out that there was no more school and there was no more baseball that night. It was tough for us all. It was not fun and it was really sad. But at least we were all together, the last time we could be. That was nice.”
Ithaca was a tight-knit group full of talented seniors ready to bring home a Section IV Championship after falling just short against Corning last year. What made this team special, and in his mind one that could go to states, was how close the team was.
“We were all really close, honestly,” Lazarus said. “We had a lot of things in common. We’re all good buds, so that helps. I feel like if a team is really close, they play as a team. If they’re not very close, they play for themselves. They won’t lay down a button if needed. But as a team, you want to win. You don’t care how you do it. You’re willing to sacrifice yourself.”
To put a bow on his high school career, Lazarus was looking to hit eight home runs, have a batting average over .500 and steal over 20 bases. But now, his focus is on preparing for Gulf Coast State College, and he’s been very busy.
“I’m working out three to four days a week,” Lazarus said. “It’s strength and conditioning. I also have two jobs and hit almost daily.”
Gulf Coast State College is one of the premier teams in the NJCAA and a solid spot for Lazarus to prepare for one of the best teams in the nation at Michigan. He explained his choice and what he likes about the team.
“They’re number nine in the nation,” Lazarus said. “They’re in Florida, and I was born in Florida. I thought it’d be nice to go back. I love the guys on that team, too. I met almost all of them. They’re going to work me hard. They want me to play outfield and they want me to get faster.”
All of his success has led to a lot of attention. That comes with both pressure and excitement.
“[The spotlight] has been fun,” Lazarus said. “It’s tough because I don’t want to let anyone down by having a bad season or anything like that. I had no idea I was actually good at baseball until my sophomore year.”
While this interview took place before the MLB Draft, where Lazarus was not selected, he had a great attitude going into it. Lazarus refused to feel bad about the possibility of not being selected, knowing that this was out of his control and “screwed up.”
Currently, Lazarus is enjoying his first summer in a long time in which he’s had free time. That could change in July after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced baseball could return in New York under phase three. For now, though, it’s all about getting ready to start his collegiate career.
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