When he was a kid, he chucked a rock across an entire pond right after his father threw a similar sized rock only about halfway across.From about that time on, he has been a pitcher with an arm and velocity like few others.
He won the 2006 American League Rookie of the Year award when he went 17-9 with a 3.63 earned run average in 30 starts.
He was third in the AL Cy Young award voting in 2009 when he led the league in wins (19), game starts (35), innings pitched (240), strikeouts (269) and strikeouts per nine innings pitched (10.1).
He has been named to three AL All-Star teams and has thrown two no-hitters: one on June 12, 2007 against the Brewers and his most recent this spring May 7 against Toronto.
He can throw a fastball more than 100 miles per hour.
Meet Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander, who recently spoke one-on-one with The Eagle-Tribune to talk about his no-hitters, his idol Nolan Ryan and the program he set up for injured war veterans in the Detroit area.
Verlander will be pitching against the Red Sox today. He will be opposed by Josh Beckett.
ET: I hear you’re donating your luxury suite at Comerica Park to injured veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan each time you start a home game. How did the idea come about?
Verlander: It’s called Verlander’s Victory for Veterans. I came up with it because I’m somewhat superstitious. The first time I had the suite available, my girlfriend Emily sat up there and it didn’t go very well for me (pitching) in my start. So thus, us both being superstitious, she no longer sits up there on my start days. So we had an empty suite up there.
ET: So you then just decided to donate the box to injured veterans?
Verlander: The Tigers do this thing where they have a military personnel deliver the game ball to the mound (before home games). So I started noticing them doing that (last season) and they were with their families so we started donating the suite to them for those games. The feedback we got was phenomenal from them and their families. I think the family (aspect) was the thing that really struck me because there’s not a lot of times that these veterans get to share stuff like that with their families. So it’s a unique experience for them. So coming into this year, we set up a program where we donate the suite to injured veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan from local VA hospitals.
ET: Do you have anyone in your family who is a veteran or serving overseas in the war?
Verlander: Yes, my first cousin. He’s currently deployed in Afghanistan. And both of my grandfathers are World World II vets. It means a lot what those men and women do for our country. Obviously, not everybody can do that. Who knows where we would be if people weren’t fighting for our freedom and our country? It means a lot and (Verlander’s Victory for Veteran’s) is my little way to say ‘Thank you.’
ET: OK, who was your idol growing up?
Verlander: Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens. Nolan was a little bit before my time, but he was always the guy I tried to mimic when I was out there.
ET: Which team did you root for growing up?
Verlander: The Atlanta Braves. I grew up in Richmond, Va. And (Atlanta’s) Triple-A affiliate, the Richmond Braves, played there. So that was why they were my favorite. So watching (Greg) Maddux, (John) Smoltz, (Tom) Glavine motivated me.
ET: Can you compare your first no-hitter in which you walked four batters and struck out 12 to the second no-hitter in which you had better control and faced the minimum 27 batters despite one walk?
Verlander: Two completely different games, really. The first one was all about stuff and the second one I felt like I pitched a lot better … and had a methodical approach about the game.
ET: You seemed less excited about the second one. You only pumped your fist. There was no big reaction on your part. No jumping up and down.
Verlander: Obviously, I was very excited. You guys couldn’t see it but once all the teammates got around me, it was pretty exciting. But right after the game was over, I was still kind of in that game mode — that kind of calm, collected, (methodical) feeling that I had on the mound. So I wasn’t jumping up and down. And I think a lot of it has to do with the strikeout, too. The first time, (the last out) was a pop up to right field. So I kind of had time, and I was looking at it, and I turned around and Pudge (Rodriguez) was jumping up and down. This time it was a strikeout, and it was just kind of a different scenario.
ET: I read that your dad was a major motivator in your life when you were a kid and that he often took you away from the TV to play baseball.
Verlander: It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy. He had to motivate me to get off the couch. I’ve got to credit him for a lot of my success.
ET: Your brother Ben now is pitching at your alma mater Old Dominion, right?
Verlander: He was drafted (by the Tigers) but he is playing college ball for Old Dominion. It means a lot to me to see him follow in my footsteps. We went to the same high school. He’s going to the same college and was drafted by the Tigers. I keep check on him to see how he’s doing. He had a pretty good first year. (Ben is 1-2 with a 4.83 ERA in 21 games, one start this spring as a freshman). He’s still playing but his school is done. So I’m excited for him. … We’re both so busy that I don’t talk to him a lot. But I keep tabs on him.