Under the bright lights of St Louis' Busch Stadium, John Holdzkom's legend began.

Yet to toe the rubber in Major League Baseball, his number was called to make the long walk from the bullpen to pitch the in eighth inning; his Pittsburgh Pirates trailing the St Louis Cardinals 6-4 on September 2, 2014.

To even the most dedicated Pirates fan, his lanky 210cm frame was an unfamiliar one; only six months earlier, he was playing independent ball, unaffiliated with any team in the majors.

But in striking out the first three batters he faced in his MLB career, one of which being 2014 All-Star Matt Carpenter, a folk-hero was born. A month after his debut, the New Zealand Diamondblacks pitcher was the star of the Pirates bullpen and a big reason why the Pittsburgh team were able to clinch a spot in the playoffs. As Holdzkom said in an interview immediately after his team secured a playoff berth, he was riding the wave.

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But every wave eventually crumbles, and Holdzkom's closed out quickly.

In 2015, shoulder injuries kept him on the sidelines and, while working on his rehabilitation, he got the news that his brother, Lincoln, had been killed in a car crash.

Then in 2016, still suffering from injuries, he was released by the Pirates and signed a low-level deal with the Chicago White Sox. He made just one appearance in the minor league before injuries flared up and his was released for a second time.

John Holdzkom quickly gained folk-hero status in his time with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Photo / Getty Images
John Holdzkom quickly gained folk-hero status in his time with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Photo / Getty Images

"There was definitely a year or two there where the foundation was rattled a little bit," Holdzkom tells the Herald. "Interest wanes real quick when you're on the (disabled list).

For the two years following, Holdzkom worked on getting his body right. He hadn't played another game of professional baseball since 2016 when he got a call about joining the Auckland Tuatara for their debut season in the Australian Baseball League.

It's a particularly special opportunity for the 31-year-old who has seen the sport develop drastically in New Zealand over the past six years.

He knew there was only one answer he could give.

"You never know when is going to be the last time you play so the fact that I got this call, I felt like it was an opportunity I couldn't turn down," he says.

John Holdzkom and Auckland Tuatara teammate Beau Bishop played together for New Zealand in 2013. Photo / Getty Images
John Holdzkom and Auckland Tuatara teammate Beau Bishop played together for New Zealand in 2013. Photo / Getty Images

"Now I'm in a good place and ready to give it another go thanks to my wife supporting me through this."

Holdzkom made his debut for the Tuatara this weekend in the first game of the team's series against the Sydney Blue Sox, pitching one spotless inning with two strikeouts in the 9-1 loss. The Tuatara also dropped both games in Saturday's doubleheader, losing 7-1 and 5-1.

While he's just made his return to professional baseball, the 30-year-old Holdzkom hasn't given up the MLB dream. While he hasn't been in contact with any franchises since being released by the White Sox, he remains hopeful of showing he's still an asset.

"We'll see if this opens up any more doors, I'm not really focused on it. I'm just thankful to be able to be a part of this inaugural season and play for the Tuatara."