Why Detroit Tigers’ Derek Holland bought WWE, UFC belts for teammates

Detroit Free Press

Two appearances into spring training games, Detroit Tigers left-hander Derek Holland — a non-roster invitee on a minor-league contract — was positive he would make the Opening Day roster. He felt confident and took a chance on his instincts.

Next, two important purchases were made.

Holland, 34, already utilized his old WWE tag-team championship belts for golf tournaments throughout camp in Lakeland, Florida. But Holland needed two brand new belts — one UFC belt and one WWE belt — for the regular season. He had to pre-order them, well before learning he made the 26-man squad in late March.

“I took the risk,” Holland said Saturday. “I had that feeling.”

Both belts are given out each game to the most deserving pitcher and position player. On Opening Day, left-hander Matthew Boyd and first baseman Miguel Cabrera secured the honors, as voted on by the team, following a 3-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians.

Boyd and Cabrera got to pick the next two players to carry the prize. They chose right-hander Julio Teheran as the pitcher of the game and Jeimer Candelario as the position player of the game. The Tigers started 2-0 overall with a 5-2 win Saturday.

“Everybody’s counting us out of being in contention and any of that stuff,” Holland said. “I wanted to have more of the motivation. Being able to have players of the game, I think that adds a little bit to the camaraderie and chemistry. That’s huge. It’s bringing guys closer.”

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Boyd earned the WWE belt on Opening Day for pitching 5⅔ scoreless innings against the Indians, winning a pitching duel with reigning American League Cy Young winner Shane Bieber and getting Jose Ramirez out in a tough fifth-inning jam.

In his 19th MLB season, Cabrera got the UFC belt for crushing a two-run, opposite-field homer against Bieber in the first inning. It was the first homer of MLB’s new season. He set the tone in the snow, and the Tigers tacked on their third (and final) run in the second inning.

“He brought it to my attention the first day we got here,” manager AJ Hinch said Saturday. “I thought it was a great idea. Whatever the players want to do to enjoy themselves in the clubhouse is huge to the success of a season. To build that chemistry and team bonding, I’m all for it.”

[ Tigers reveal alternate training site, minor-league camp rosters: Who’s going where ]

Holland, who pitched a scoreless sixth inning, allowing just one walk, on Saturday, started the player of the game belts at some point during his eight-year Texas Rangers career, from 2009-16, and brought the idea with him to the Chicago White Sox in 2017. When he showed the belts before Opening Day warmups, Holland said the “guys were pumped” for the chance to pridefully wear the belt.

Now that everyone is aware, Holland hopes the clubhouse entertainment helps deliver wins on the field.

And Holland wants to avoid falling into the trap of “being negative.”

“There were signs going into our weight room in spring training: If you don’t believe in getting this, then you don’t belong here with this team. And it was the World Series trophy,” Holland said. “With that being said, it’s all about believing in yourself and believing in your teammates.”

[ ‘Majority’ of Tigers’ players, coaches get COVID-19 vaccines ]

Tigers add staffer

The Tigers hired James Frisbie as the team’s left-handed batting practice specialist, striking an agreement before Opening Day. He was previously the manager of the Lincoln Saltdogs, an independent league team.

“It was a priority for us given all the switch-hitters that we have,” Hinch said. “We had some connections get to know him. Had him down in camp for us and then he’s joined us in Detroit.”

Frisbie never managed a game for the Saltdogs because the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 season. He has previous professional managerial experience for the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings (2003), Bradenton Juice (2007), Rockford Aviators (2014-15), Texas AirHogs (2016) and Southern Maryland Blue Crabs (2018).

He played collegiate baseball at Abilene Christian University in Texas.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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