LAKELAND, Fla. -- One of the cooler parts of Justin Verlander’s rise to an elite pitcher with the Tigers over a decade ago were the gestures he showed to catchers who helped along the way. After throwing his second no-hitter against the Blue Jays in 2011, he gave his catcher, Alex Avila, a luxury watch as a gift of appreciation.
That no-hitter was the last by a Tiger until Spencer Turnbull no-hit the Mariners on May 18 in Seattle. Fittingly, Turnbull bought his catcher for that game, Eric Haase, a watch.
But more than a gift, Turnbull and the Tigers made it a presentation at their daily meeting before Friday’s 6-6 tie with the Phillies.
“We had a video. We walked through some of the highlights and watched the whole ninth inning together,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “And then, Bull presented [Haase] with a Rolex. That was a cool moment for Spencer to say thanks to his catcher and the group to relive a really cool game last year.”
The timing was partly by circumstance. Turnbull made just three more starts after that no-hitter last season before going on the injured list and eventually having Tommy John surgery. He arrived at Spring Training this week to take the next step in his rehab work. Supply chain issues also have made the Rolex a hard-to-find item until his agent tracked one down.
"I'm like, 'Dang, I'm buying the most expensive thing I've ever bought,'" Turnbull joked. "It was kind of a weird thing. But at the same time, it's like, 'No, this is a really cool thing, and there's no one who deserves it more.'"
It caught Haase by surprise.
“I was surprised it was today. I didn’t know anything was going on,” Haase said. “I talked to Spencer in the offseason a couple of times, and he was like, ‘I promise I’m going to get something.’ He’s obviously going through a lot with surgery and rehab and everything, so I wasn’t worried about it. We obviously have a great group of guys here. I’ll see him every day in Spring Training.
“I wasn’t worried about it at all, but it was very special that he did it today in front of everybody and put some highlights up. We got to relive the game a little bit. I was getting goosebumps. And then he came out and gave me the watch, so it was cool.”
Haase's reaction as they watched the final outs together, Turnbull said, was priceless.
"Honestly, watching Haase and seeing how much it meant to him, he was kind of getting choked up a little bit," Turnbull said. "I was like, 'Man, I would do that 100 times over for that dude.' It was the coolest feeling."
It came 10 months to the day since the no-hitter, but it doesn’t feel that long to Haase. Amazingly, that was just his 12th game as a Tiger and his fifth game of the season. The offensive tear that cemented his place on Detroit's roster didn’t begin until a couple weeks later.
It feels close enough that Haase can still remember everything about it.
“His pregame bullpen was absolutely terrible. He was worried,” Haase recalled. “I’m looking at the pitching coach like, ‘Hopefully we can get him through a couple [innings] today.’ The lights came on and everything lined up, and he was just nails that day.”
True to his image, Haase admittedly is not a big watch collector. He plans to keep it in a safe place and maybe bring it out for special occasions.
“I’m not really a fancy person,” he said with a smile. “Everything I have is nothing like this. Everything cool that I do have, my wife buys it for me. Unless it’s hunting stuff or something like that, I don’t really spend money on stuff. So this is really cool. I’m proud of the times that I’ll be able to wear it. I’ll pick some spots.”
Hinch, too, was proud of the way the team handled it.
“We talk about culture, and that word gets talked about and thrown around,” Hinch said. “That’s pretty cool to see players enjoy each other in a moment. I think it matters to a team. I think it somewhat galvanizes a team. The guys that were here, it brings back great memories. The guys that weren’t here see that we celebrate big accomplishments.”