Detroit – The tradition of bestowing championship belts on teammates in this city goes back to Rasheed Wallace, who adorned his teammates with boxing-wrestling styled belts after the Pistons won the NBA title in 2004.
It was cool then and it’s cool now, as Tigers reliever Derek Holland showed on Thursday when he broke out a WWE and a UFC championship belt before Opening Day to honor the pitcher and player of the game.
“It was cool to see the guys’ reaction when I brought them out before the game,” Holland said on Saturday morning. “Just their excitement. The guys were pumped about it. It was awesome.”
Matthew Boyd earned the WWE belt, which he proudly brought into the Zoom room afterward, and Miguel Cabrera won the UFC belt. Going forward, the previous winners get to select the players of the game for the next one.
“It’s just something you want to have for more fuel to the fire,” said Holland, who has used similar bonding and motivational methods throughout his career. “Everybody is ruling us out for being in contention, so I wanted to have some more motivation. I know these guys already have it to begin with.
“But to have a player of the game, both a pitcher and a player, that adds more to the team and that camaraderie and chemistry. It’s huge to do something like that and bring guys closer together.”
The belts are elaborate and Holland had them on order before he was certain he’d be on the Tigers Opening Day roster. He made the team as a non-roster invitee.
“Yeah, I took a little risk,” he said. “It was after two appearances in spring training and I just said, I’m going to be confident in myself and believe I’m going to make the team — which is how you always go into it, believing.
“But I had that feeling and it made me go out there get the belts.”
Holland’s love of championship belts goes way back. He is an unabashed fan of both the WWE and UFC.
“I would go to WWE events and buy belts for kids who were seated close by,” he said. “Just wanted them to have that true experience.”
He also had tag-team belts made up for the Tigers annual spring training golf outing.
“I’ve never been on a team that hasn’t had fun behind the scenes with stuff like that,” Hinch said. “He brought it to my attention the first day he got here and I thought it was a great idea. Whatever the players want to do to enjoy themselves is huge to the success of the season.
“Obviously you have to win to celebrate those things, but anything you can do to build chemistry and team bonding, I’m all for it.”
Hinch had Holland warming in the eighth inning of a 3-0 game Thursday and with the Indians loading their lineup Saturday with left-handed hitters, he’s likely to be up again Saturday.
“He’s taken this bullpen role pretty seriously,” Hinch said. “He came to me midway through camp and wanted to make sure I knew he didn’t just want to be a bulk reliever or a guy who was just looking to make the team. He wanted to compete for leverage roles and be a weapon out of the bullpen.
“Then he went out and dominated this spring. His approach to this opportunity has been a breath of fresh air.”
Holland has been a model for the power of self-belief. Not only in the way he’s pitched this spring, but also in the way his positivity is rubbing off on the rest of the team.
“Have you ever played sports? Have you ever been on a team and said, ‘Hey, I don’t think we’re going to win?’” Holland said. “No. That’s the point. We have that confidence. We believe in ourselves. That’s the way you should carry yourself whether it’s in everyday life or in the game of baseball.
“You need to carry yourself with high expectations and a high ceiling.”
And when you can, do it while wearing a shiny championship belt.