How a WWE belt is holding up the Guardians’ team chemistry

March 31st, 2024

This story was excerpted from Mandy Bell’s Guardians Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

OAKLAND — Let’s set the scene.

The Guardians are filing back into the clubhouse after a victory. As high fives are flying across the room, screams of celebration can be heard down the hallways nearby. As guys are settling in at their respective lockers, pitcher Tyler Beede is floating around the room with an enormous Guardians-themed WWE belt, looking for its next recipient.

Beede might pop by Triston McKenzie‘s or Austin Hedges’ lockers to get a consensus opinion on who should be honored as the player of the game, but it’s Beede who approaches the unsuspecting target and rewards them with the flashy title.

It’s a gimmick that has already brought this group closer together. Beede has seen this work in the past. When he was with San Francisco, his team used fog machines and sprayed fake money in the air after victories as a selected player donned a WWE belt. So, Beede decided to purchase the $549.99 Guardians-themed belt and bring the tradition to Cleveland.

“It’s not easy to win in the big leagues,” Beede said. “So I think taking advantage of the times where we do those and celebrating those, especially the players who helped contribute in a big way to that, so kind of giving like a player-of-the-game belt, thought it’d be fun.”

On Opening Day, the clear catalyst in the 8-0 win was Shane Bieber, but Cleveland’s ace said it should go to manager Stephen Vogt. Normally, a manager wouldn’t be eligible to win the belt, but because it was his first career managerial victory, Beede allowed the nice sentiment to proceed. However, Vogt didn’t want to get in the mix. He wanted this to remain a players-only tradition. So, David Fry’s 3-for-4 performance earned him the first belt honors of the year.

Fry clasped the belt around his waist and wore it for a half hour in the clubhouse as he ate his postgame meal. He enjoyed the time he had with it before it was placed in Andrés Giménez’s locker on Friday. When the winning continued through Saturday, Steven Kwan’s big knock earned him a turn.

“I think it’s special,” Giménez said. “I think it’s the first time that we’re doing this and it feels specials. A little bit different, but I hope it’s some motivation for guys.”

“It’s just fun,” Kwan said. “It adds some kind of culture, something we can rally around, something we can look forward to after the game. … I think it was a really cool idea.”

This was the energy that was missing in 2023. In ’22, the young roster that seemed destined for a rebuild shocked the baseball world by soaring to the second round of the playoffs. A “why-not-us” attitude toward the game backed by unmatched enthusiasm from Hedges in the clubhouse created a recipe for success. But when Hedges was gone in ’23, there was a clear energy shift in the room.

Now, with Hedges’ outgoing personality, on top of this creative idea by Beede (another new addition in the clubhouse), the liveliness in the clubhouse is back.

“Culture. Everything we do is culture,” Vogt said when asked about the belt. “Again, it’s just a reminder [that] this is a game. This is fun. For three hours a day, you get to go be a 12-year-old kid. The rest of the day will take care of itself afterwards.”

The screams you’re hearing down the hallways outside of the clubhouse are probably coming during the postgame belt ceremony. After a player dons it, Beede has him pose for a photo that he snaps on a Polaroid camera. At the end of a road trip or a homestand, he’s hoping to find a spot to hang all the pictures for everyone to see.

“Maybe the guy with the most at the end of the year can keep the belt or bring it back the next year,” Beede said.

The Guardians have already gotten a taste of the amusement this ritual can bring during the first series of the year. And maybe it’ll restore the overwhelming camaraderie that filled the clubhouse in 2022.

“These guys have established a culture in that clubhouse of winning and fun,” Vogt said. “We’re just hoping to keep it going.”