Orioles starter Cole Irvin sat at a barbecue joint in North Carolina and chatted with his new friend, Kevin Holland, about the difficulties of shoulder rehab.

One, Irvin, puts his body to the test as a major league pitcher. The other, Holland, was shot in the shoulder while serving in the military.

Irvin was a bit surprised by the similarities in their programs. And he was dumbfounded by Holland’s stories of bravery and sacrifice, of missions to places most Americans will never see.

Holland was in the military for about two decades and served on both SEAL Team 6 and Delta Force, two of the United States’ top special units tasked with the most dangerous missions. Irvin has always appreciated the military but Holland, he said, brought a new perspective into his life.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“I will never do anything to the scale that he did,” Irvin said. “I don’t know if I can do what he did. I don’t know if I could, honestly.”

When it came time to design his glove for the upcoming season, Irvin knew just what he wanted to do. Players have strict uniform policies they have to follow, but their glove is one of the few ways they are allowed to express themselves.

Last season, Irvin used one with his dog’s name engraved on it. He has another that’s decked out in different animal fur that he shags fly balls with during batting practice, and he even has a set with stingray and shark skin that he practices with. All of his gloves have a different color ring finger, a nod to his wife since he can’t wear his ring while he’s pitching.

The one he plans to use this year has a higher meaning. This one will be dedicated to Holland, and all who have served or are currently serving.

Irvin plans to donate it to the Navy SEAL Foundation after the season.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“I care about what I do, but the importance of it takes a definite step back,” Irvin said. “I have a lot of respect for our military members. I think when I look at a guy like him, what he’s done, because of what he did I can do what I do. I’m thankful for that.”

He has two versions of the glove. The first, which is already broken in, has a Navy SEAL mantra, “The deed is all, not the glory,” engraved on it. The other, which he hopes to wear on Tuesday in his first start of the season if it’s ready, has a bonefrog on it, a well-known image that honors Navy SEALs.

Irvin got permission from Holland before proceeding to ensure this was an appropriate way to honor service members.

“I’ve always supported the military the way I knew how, thanking veterans, thanking first responders,” Irvin said. “It turned into relationships. I have buddies who have served and now I’m friends with ... one of the most badass Navy SEALs of all time.”

Holland enlisted in 1988 and was later stationed in northern Iraq as a Navy SEAL, conducting deep reconnaissance and sniper missions as a Navy SEAL during operations such as Desert Shield and Desert Storm, according to an article in The Wilkes Record.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Holland left in 1995, and later worked as a wildlife officer. After Sept. 11, Holland decided he wanted to enlist again, this time in the Army. He had to start from scratch, working his way back up the ranks.

“Where he was in his rank, six years removed, goes into a totally different unit and does it at the top, that’s elite,” Irvin said.

In 2003, he helped capture Saddam Hussein, pulling Hussein out of his bunker by his hair and beard.

His military career ended in 2013, two years after he was shot in the left part of his chest, just above his body armor and below his shoulder. He was awarded two Purple Hearts and seven Bronze Stars for his acts of valor, according to Holland’s website for booking public speaking appearances.

“None of what we do is drastically close to what they experience,” Irvin said. “I can only imagine what it’s like being shot at.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Holland and Irvin stayed in touch after their initial meeting in 2021, exchanging pictures of their hunting and fishing adventures in addition to life updates. Last offseason, Irvin visited Holland in North Carolina. They patronized a local coffee shop that supports veterans, went on a hunting trip, and took a tour of the Winkler Knives headquarters — where Holland has collaborated on designs.

As Irvin takes the mound on Tuesday for his first start of the season and looks down at his glove, he’ll be reminded of those days in North Carolina with Holland, not only of the war stories but also of the humility Holland showed to others, of the faith he passed on to Irvin and of the sound, straightforward advice he shared.

And Irvin, in turn, will do all he can to honor his friend.

“This is nothing compared to what he sacrificed. I get to thank military members. I won’t ever understand what they experienced,” Irvin said. “The connection with him, it definitely drives me in the offseason. It drives me in season too.”

Correction: This story has been updated to correct how long Kevin Holland served in the military.

Danielle Allentuck covers the Orioles for The Baltimore Banner. She previously reported on the Rockies for the Denver Gazette and general sports assignments for The New York Times as part of its fellowship program. A Maryland native, Danielle grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Ithaca College.

More From The Banner