Dream comes true for Texas Rangers pitcher Derek Holland

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- When he was first born, Derek Holland's mother wrapped him in "a cute, little baby outfit" for the ride home.

"But his hands were so big, they wouldn't fit through the wrist part," Wendy Holland recalled. "So I had to cut the sleeves.

"I remember thinking to myself, just looking at him and laughing, 'Now, watch -- he'll probably become famous for doing something with his hands. Like gripping a baseball.'"

Her motherly instincts were spot on.

The kid with the big hands has grown up now. Sort of.

And what once seemed like a faraway dream -- Holland's dad, Rick, was just hoping that baseball could get his son into college -- was rewarded handsomely Tuesday at the spring training home of the Texas Rangers.

In a deal that the franchise hopes adds another rock to its pitching foundation, the Rangers signed the 25-year-old Holland to a five-year, $28 million contract. The signing includes two option years that could keep Holland in a Texas uniform through 2018.

By giving up what could possibly be his first three years of free agency, Holland will be postponing his marketability for stability. He wants to be a Ranger, he said at Tuesday's announcement. He wants to be a part of a team primed to contend for World Series titles.

The quest to cultivate young major league pitching, however, can be a frustrating one. On the same day that the Rangers signed Holland, they saw 23-year-old Neftali Feliz have to abandon his start prematurely with what was described as right shoulder stiffness.

Feliz was scheduled to throw four innings, more or less, against the Chicago Cubs in Mesa. But Feliz failed to return to the mound for his final inning. He was taken back to the club's spring training headquarters for further examination.

And while nobody in the Texas clubhouse seemed to be resetting the alarms to Defcon One, any time that a prized, fastball-throwing, 23-year-old pitcher complains of shoulder pain is cause for concern.

Feliz missed 16 days last season with inflammation in the same shoulder.

The Rangers are fortunate to have options. If Feliz is injured, both Alexi Ogando and Scott Feldman have experience as starters.

The shoulder stiffness came as Feliz, the team's closer in 2011, was in the middle of his best start of the spring. He worked three innings, allowing no runs and two hits, walking one and striking out two. His fastball reportedly was regularly in the mid-90s.

Durability, by no coincidence, was one of the things that club president Nolan Ryan mentioned earlier in the day as an incentive for extending Holland's contract.

"We always anticipate with young players that they will have periods where they struggle," Ryan said. "That's where we really see the growth in young players -- how they handle that period of time. With Derek, he would bounce back from them and be better each time he went through a period like that. That was very reassuring to us."

Holland's parents, who live in Newark, Ohio, have been riding that same roller coaster with their son.

Rick Holland, an electrician by trade, said he never expected to find himself at a press conference to announce his son had signed a potential $49 million baseball contract.

"When we were in Florida, when Derek was about 7 years old," Wendy Holland recalled, "we went to this place where they take your picture and put your head on somebody else's body and they make it look like a magazine cover.

"On Derek's cover, he was a baseball player. It was really weird because the cover said 'World Series' and he was a pitcher. And he had a blue hat on.

"I used to not be able to look at that picture, because it was like I was seeing into the future. It just creeped me out. So I had to put the picture away.

"Little things like that, you just never dream it would actually come through."

For the record, Holland's mom has grown to like Derek's much-discussed, starter-kit mustache.

"I've learned to like the look," she confessed.

Their son has grown up. A dedicated workout advocate, he said he wants to set an example for the club's next generation of young players.

But first, Holland said, he wants to buy a permanent home in Texas.

And then a Corvette.

"My dream car," Derek Holland said.

For the Holland family, it was a good day for dreams.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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