The big leagues can be everything you dream of: fame, fortune and accolades galore.

But the big leagues are also swinging at air so hard you drop to your knee.

The big leagues can be a confounding, hair-pulling exercise in tolerating failure. Somehow the game you’ve excelled at your whole life, standing head and shoulders above the competition, is suddenly twisting you in knots. And it’s exponentially tougher when the world expects you to figure it out right away.

It has been just three games for Jackson Holliday, the Orioles’ No. 1 prospect who is surely bound for great days in Major League Baseball. But his first few days with Baltimore have been anything but great.

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Holliday has gotten 11 big league at-bats and has struck out seven times. He’s still hunting for his first hit. He made his home debut Friday night to raucous cheers from the Camden Yards crowd, which stood for his at-bats. But after his 0-for-3 night in a dispiriting loss to the Brewers, he had to remind even himself that his start is still a small sample.

“It’s three games,” Holliday said. “It feels like longer, but it’s just three games.”

The way Holliday has hit at every level of minor league baseball, he probably figured he’d get three hits in a game before he struck out three times in one. But Friday was not his night. The 20-year-old fell behind 0-2 in three straight at-bats, striking out in all three.

Holliday says he feels comfortable playing second base but is trying too hard when he hits. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

In his third big league game in particular, Holliday struggled with sliders. He whiffed on two for his final strikes against Brewers starter Freddy Peralta and let another from J.B. Bukauskas simply whiz by for a third strike.

This is a rookie learning curve — but the problem is Holliday, the son of an All-Star, is supposed to be no average rookie. And, unlike some of his predecessors who enjoyed a cushion on losing or middling teams, Holliday enters a season with high stakes. The Orioles are already playing catch-up to the Yankees in their race to defend their AL East title.

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The Orioles anticipated Holliday’s growing pains, as general manager Mike Elias told The Banner’s Andy Kostka. Holding him off the opening day roster felt overly cautious to many observers — myself included. But this is the flip side, when a shooting star in the farm system suddenly butts against the reality that success in the big leagues is almost always hard won, no matter who you are.

The Orioles have had a similar process with their other treasured prospects, whom Elias named: Gunnar Henderson, Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez and Colton Cowser among them.

“It would probably be foolish to expect anything but growing pains,” Elias told The Banner, “but we’ll see how this goes.”

Holliday is young enough to struggle but mature enough to know what is gumming him up. Parsing his at-bats, he talked about Peralta’s lively fastball that was hitting the outside edge of the plate (Peralta struck out 11). He understood that he shouldn’t have gotten behind in counts, and he was chasing too many pitches.

“I just think I need to relax a little bit,” Holliday said. “I feel really comfortable on defense, and trying to press maybe a little too much on offense. But it will come.”

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Holliday, of course, should be believed. Last season in Norfolk, he got just five hits in his first 29 at-bats before finishing the Triple-A season on a tear. This spring in Sarasota, Florida, he had one hit in his first three games before batting .311 with two home runs.

If there’s a prospect you trust to figure it out, it’s Holliday, who projects as one of the Orioles’ most reliable hitters for years to come.

None of that has changed. But that adjustment period can feel like sitting in the dentist’s chair, waiting to be drilled.

“To be able to adjust is the most important part of this game because you fail a lot,” Holliday said. “I was able to do that in spring training, and I’m looking forward to more at-bats and more games to get more comfortable and make those adjustments as quick as possible.”

His family, including 15-year MLB veteran dad Matt Holliday, lingered for him in the hallway outside the clubhouse. This offseason, Jackson spent hours and hours with his dad and his brother, high school phenom Ethan, in the family batting cage in Oklahoma.

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I asked him if there is any family wisdom that will help guide him out of his first big league slump.

Holliday let out a pained chuckle, knowing who he would find in that hallway. “I’m about to go find out.”

Kyle joined The Baltimore Banner in 2023 as a sports columnist. He previously covered the L.A. Lakers for The Orange County Register and myriad sports at The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s a Mt. Hebron High and University of Maryland alum.

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