Bisons players Derek Holland, Eric Stamets recall Columbus ties as they face Clippers

·4 min read
"Every day is a fun day for me," says Newark native and Bisons pitcher Derek Holland, now in his 16th season as a professional baseball player.
"Every day is a fun day for me," says Newark native and Bisons pitcher Derek Holland, now in his 16th season as a professional baseball player.

With overcast skies minutes away from unleashing a torrential downpour over Huntington Park Thursday evening, Buffalo Bisons pitcher Derek Holland had one goal.

“I’m going to go home, go to Pizza Cottage and get me a BLT pizza. I strongly recommend it.”

The Newark High School graduate may have a future as a restaurant critic. But if Holland has his choice, he'd prefer to add more years to his Major League Baseball career of 13 seasons and possibly counting.

That may be where this stint in the minors is headed, but while he's here, he's glad to be able to cross off an item from his bucket list.

He’s never played a professional game in his hometown. Until now.

Bisons pitcher Derek Holland, center, stretches during warmups at Huntington Park.
Bisons pitcher Derek Holland, center, stretches during warmups at Huntington Park.

The Bisons are in Columbus for a six-game series and won the first three.

“I used to come to Clippers games growing up, they were the Yankees (affiliate) at the time, and I got to see Darryl Strawberry, David Cone, all those guys. It’s different to be playing here,” said Holland, who is here on his first stint in the minor leagues that wasn’t a rehab assignment since 2009.

Holland has played for six MLB teams (Rangers, White Sox, Giants, Cubs, Pirates and Tigers) and 11 corresponding minor league teams during his 16 years in the pros.

He blossomed his third year in Texas, compiling a 16-5 record with 162 strikeouts, and capped it with the performance of a lifetime in Game 4 of the 2011 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. His two-hitter over 8 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts in a 4-0 victory helped the Rangers tie the series 2-2. In 2018, his last as a full-time starter, he finished 7-9 with the Giants in 2018.

Last season he appeared in 39 games for the Tigers and had a 3-2 record with a 5.07 ERA and four holds (when a relief pitcher enters the game in a save situation and maintains the lead for the next reliever while recording at least one out).

After a brief stint with Worcester, Boston’s Triple-A team, Holland opted out of his contract and was signed in May by Toronto. He's made six appearances for the Bisons, carries a 2.95 ERA over 6 1/3 innings and earned his first save of the season Friday night, a 5-3 Bisons win.

“I’m very happy with how things are going. My (velocity) is climbing back up again, I feel like everything is where it needs to be. But I can only control going out there and pitching and doing my job,” Holland said.

Derek Holland went 3-2 with a 5.07 ERA and four holds for the Tigers last season.
Derek Holland went 3-2 with a 5.07 ERA and four holds for the Tigers last season.

“Every day is a fun day for me. I’m getting to play the game of baseball, that’s the most important thing to me," he said. “You take whatever you can get. For me to be able to be around these guys helping, I’m very satisfied with where I am.”

He also doesn’t forget where he came from. Holland and his brother Greg ran the Derek Holland Baseball Clinic in Newark for nine years before Covid-19 put a halt to it two years ago. Kids in grades 3-6 learned pitching, hitting and fielding at Newark High School.

This week, in between dodging the rain and bullpen sessions, Holland will either be eating a slice or loading up on Columbus Blue Jackets gear.

“I’m always going to be representing Ohio, so I always want to make sure I’m paying the respect to where it all started,” he said.

And Holland isn’t the only Bisons player who is here celebrating a homecoming. Former Clippers infielder and Dublin Scioto grad Eric Stamets is another of the team's veterans.

“It’s been weird, but good to be back,” said Stamets, who still resides in Dublin. “It kind of feels like the offseason when I’m not at the field.”

Stamets had 27 home runs, 110 RBIs and 28 stolen bases over parts of four seasons in Columbus and spent the first 15 games of the 2019 season with Cleveland. This week marks the fifth anniversary of when he went 11 for 13 with seven runs, four doubles, four home runs and 12 RBIs over a four-game series against Norfolk.

After a slow start this year (.163 average in April), Stamets is enjoying a run of good fortune at the plate this month (.276, 2 HR, 2SB and 4 RBIs).

“Hitting is always a grind, and it changes daily. Your body changes, feels different each day, and you’ve got to find that rhythm,” he said. “Even though I’ve been around a little while, I’m still learning and trying to help some of the younger guys coming up, little nuances and intricacies of infield play and how the game works,” Stamets said.

Stamets snared a line drive for the game's final out in Friday night's victory. The Bisons have won six straight and are within one game of first place Rochester in the International League East. Thursday’s game will be made up as part of a doubleheader Saturday.

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Newark native Derek Holland is facing the Clippers as a Bisons pitcher