Someone to know: Dean Holoien, Canadian fastball star - Great Story by Bob Otto

July 10, 2013

by Bob Otto




Dean Holoien pitching in the 2000 ISC World Tournament for the Edmonton (Alberta) Express had a 4-1 record in 35 1/3 innings with 64 strikeouts and a 1.39 ERA. He led the Express to ninth place in the 48-team tournament. Photo By BOB OTTO

“Fastpitch softball was lucky to have him and I was grateful that I got a front row seat for a lot of years.” – Todd Martin about former teammate Dean Holoien 

REGINA, SASKATCHEWAN – Dean Holoien knows where to give credit for his long and successful fastball career – his father Doug.  If not for dad’s insistence that “it’s time to practice,” fastball may not have enjoyed the exploits of one of the sport’s greatest pitchers and hitters.

“I remember pitching in the yard to dad until the moon came out,” Dean Holoien said. “There were many times when I would have rather did other things, but he had me pitching. But I’m sure glad he did.”

Holoien retired after the 2012 season, finishing a 20-year fastball career at the elite level. His talent carried him far – throughout Canada and the United States playing for elite club teams – and on to the worldwide stage, competing in the International Softball Federation (ISF) World Championship.

His former teammate and pitcher, Todd Martin, knows Holoien well – since 1993 when they started playing together for the Camrose Merchants. Then they teamed up with the Farm Tavern of Madison, Wisconsin (2002 to 2004), and also played on Canada’s Senior Men’s National Team (1997-2009).

Martin says no one was any tougher or fierce a competitor in the circle than Holoien. His will to win and his hard spinning rise ball elevated him to the top of the sport. But adds Martin, with a bat in his hand, Holoien was a terror in the batter’s box as well.


In 1998, Todd Martin, pitching for the Tampa Smokers of Florida was awarded the ISC World Tournament Most Outstanding Pitcher for leading the Smokers to the championship. In his career, Martin has been selected a Most Outstanding Pitcher three times.Photo By BOB OTTO

“He had a ton of huge hits over the course of his career,” said Martin, a three-time Most Valuable Pitcher in the ISC World Tournament. “Not many guys are capable of throwing a shutout and hitting a bomb to win a game 1-0. But that was Deano.”


Martin recalls a special game that exemplifies Holoien’s indomitable will.

“It was the ISC (World Tournament) final in 2009,” says Martin. “Deano threw straight rise balls by a great Patsy’s of New York lineup in the final to claim his first ISC title, 1-0. Having been a teammate on the national team and various club teams over the years, I really wanted him to win an ISC title.”

Let’s meet Holoien, a six-time ISC World Tournament All-World selection from 1995 to 2012. His 35 world tournament victories puts him No. 10 on the all-time wins list. Holoien’s career also includes induction into the Saskatchewan Softball Hall of Fame in 2002.

Q: How did you get your start? A: I started in T-ball, and then our Bantam team in Melfort won the Western Canadian Championship in 1984, and a Midget national title in 1986, and a junior national title in 1989. That team was named to the Saskatchewan Softball Hall of Fame in 2002.

Q: You credit you dad a lot for keeping you focused on your pitching. He must have been a big influence? A: When I was four or five years old, I grew up watching my dad play ball in Melfort and eventually I became the team’s batboy when I was able to lift a bat. My dad was a pitcher, so I was into the pitching role right from the start. My dad is my biggest influence on my softball career. To this day, I love it when my dad is there watching…

Q: From those boyhood teams you went on to play for some great national and club teams in the U.S. What were some of your most cherished accomplishments? A: Winning four Canadian National Championships in 1999 with the Edmonton Express, then 2004 and ‘08 with Saskatoon Aspen, and 2009 with the Kitchener Rivershark Twins. And winning the ISC World Tournament in 2009 with Kitchener Rivershark Twins.

Q: If you had to pick just ONE memorable championship, what would it be? A: I would have to say the ISC (World Tournament) championship in 2009 with the Kitchener Rivershark Twins was my most satisfying experience. I had competed for that title for almost 20 years, so finally winning it was one of the best feelings ever. (Holoien was selected the first-team All-World designated hitter with a .385 batting average, six RBIs and one home run.)

Q: Everyone in fastball has suffered through a disappointing loss. For you? A: (We had) a tough loss in 2008 (ISC World Tournament) when I was playing with Saskatoon Aspen. We were up 3-0 to start the sixth inning, only to lose the game 6-3. (Aspen was leading with just five outs to go, but lost the game to Kitchener in Kimberly, WI. But Holoien was named a first-team All-World pitcher for his 3-1 record in 25 1/3 innings, 3.04 ERA, and 46 strikeouts.)


Colin Abbott, one of the most prolific and feared hitters in all of fastball, swinging away in the 1998 ISC World Tournament for the Farm Tavern of Madison, WI.Photo By BOB OTTO

Q: Who were a few of the toughest hitters you faced? A: There’s been so many great hitters, but to just name a few I had to face, are Colin Abbott, Mark Sorenson, Ryan Wolff, Jody Eidt and Shawn Rychcik. There are so many more, but if I start thinking about them, I will have to get into rehab!

Q: Who were some of the greatest pitchers you faced as a hitter? A: Todd Martin is on this list. He threw such a heavy drop ball, but also had a devastating change-up, which made his hard stuff even better. Other greats are Peter Meredith, Chub Tangaroa, Paul Algar, Gerald Muizelaar – and in my opinion – the very best of all time Darren Zack. Darren would get the better of most guys, but every now and then if you were able to get a hit, you really knew you accomplished something. He is a great competitor and it was a real honor to play against and with him.

Q: Any idea of your career stats? A: As far as stats go, I let the stat guys figure all that stuff out. To me, the championships won is what I keep track of.

Q: What were the challenges you had to overcome hitter to be successful? A: Playing 20 years at the (elite) level, I never wanted anyone to “figure me out.” I found that I had to constantly tweak things in my swing to give the pitchers a different look. In this game it is crucial to be able to hit the ball the other way, which I believe I was able to do, as I got older and smarter.

Dean Holoien pitching in the late 1990s in the ISC World Tournament.Photo By BOB OTTO

Q: And challenges you had to overcome as a pitcher? A:  The great pitchers figure out if a batter has a consistent “hole” in their swing (and) figure out a sure way of getting certain batters out. And as far as pitching goes, the titanium bat era was ridiculous. I felt like I was playing dodge ball at times! I was very happy when the titanium bats were banned. I also had to overcome a pretty serious shoulder injury in 2005. I had surgery in November and was back at it for the 2006 season.

Q: What made you decide to retire? A: It was time. I felt it. It became so difficult to stay healthy. I knew teams were counting on me to pitch some important innings when it came down to crunch time, and the last couple of years the body made it difficult to do that. I had shoulder surgery in 2012, and I do not plan on having anymore. And no, I have no intention on making any type of comeback.

Q: So “cold turkey,” completely finished? A: I have made too many great friends through this game to NOT play the occasional game now and then. I plan on playing a few tournaments this year, but not at the elite level. At this point, it’s not so much for the ball, but for the players and friends I’ve made along the way.

Q: With all this “free” time, how do you plan on spending it? A: My wife Dina and kids Joey, Sidney and Jaymin and my granddaughter Willow will occupy my time. And I coach Sidney right now, and love every aspect of that. I’m doing everything I can to invest more time into my family.

Q: Where have your fastball travels taken you in the U.S.? A: New York Heflin Builders in 1999; County Concrete, Marathon, Wisconsin in 2001, and the Farm Tavern from 2002 to 2005.

Q: And Canadian teams? A: There have been quite a few, so I hope I don’t miss any. I played with the Camrose Merchants (Alberta), New Westminster Regents (BC), Port Coquitlam Ravens (BC), Saskatoon Rempel Brothers (SK), Saskatoon Aspen (SK), and the Kitchener Rivershark Twins (Ontario).

Q: With all your experience, any thoughts of coaching? A: I love the coaching aspect, so I think I will be a part of the game in that way. That should make the transition to retirement a little easier…

Q: And finally for Todd Martin: besides Holoien’s fastball talent, what else should we know about your friend and teammate? A: Deano was an unbelievable teammate. He was always behind his guys 100% of the time and a light-hearted kid at heart with the ability to bring a room or a huddle to its knees in laughter. Fastpitch softball was lucky to have him and I was grateful that I got a front row seat for a lot of years.