Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Justin Verlander: the Once and Future Ace


Danville, Kentucky – There comes a time in a man’s life when folks count you out. When they say you should plead guilty to the loitering charge and stop selling tapes of your no-hitter in an Applebee's parking lot. When they say your best days are behind you; that your no-hit gem vs Boyle County in ’72 was great and all, but it’s time to move on from baseball and find a real job.

Folks, I never paid any mind to what some might say, and I've never moved on from my baseball obsession and I’ve never been consistently employed over the years. That determination (or stubbornness, as all my ex-wives and their attorneys call it) is what separates men like Justin Verlander and I from mere mortals.

That being said, there are lots of differences between Justin and myself. I haven’t played baseball since high school, after I broke my arm in a drunken trampoline accident as I was on the cusp of breaking into the minor leagues. Justin Verlander has thrown 2 major-league no-hitters, whereas mine was in a high school game that was called due to inclement weather. I’ve had more marriages than I care to admit, whereas Justin has yet to put a ring on his woman Kate.

Justin is where he is because he believed in himself, in spite of the nerds fretting over his xFIP+ and the pundits calling him the next Tim Lincecum. After a forgettable 2014 and an injury-riddled beginning of 2015, Verlander is now once again pitching like the Cy Young & MVP who won 24 games in 2011 and allowed 1 earned run in 3 post-season starts in 2013. He looks like the guy who could come out of the dugout on any given night and threaten to throw a no-hitter. The guy who isn’t afraid to pitch to anyone. A man ready to put the team on his back in a way that Max Scherzer or David Price never did.

Verlander isn’t out of the woods yet. He’d be the first to say his 2-6 win/loss record is unacceptable, and the first to say he “plays the game to win championships, not to rack up personal accomplishments like no-hitters.”

As he shares a glass of grape & cherry Merlot exquisitely crafted in Northern Michigan with his supermodel girlfriend later this week, he’ll repeat that quote exactly. As Verlander and Detroit’s own Yoko Ono eat an expensive meal at a private lake-side bourgeois restaurant in the white-collar part of Michigan that Mitt Romney calls home, they’ll drink to Justin’s health. Justin will stare into the distant, burning orange sunset, as the lake breeze ripples through his dark-brown locks of windswept hair. He’ll think about the arch of his life – playing ball in the backyard with his brother Ben, being a first-round draft pick and top prospect, the World Series appearance his rookie year, the years of being whispered in the same breath as Koufax and Ryan and the years of falling up short. The fate of this man or that man is less than a drop, albeit a sparkling one, in the great blue motion of the sunlit bay. With Upton by his side and his pitching talent rediscovered, he’ll laugh in spite of himself and crack a boyish smile, as he contemplates how awesome his life is. Detroit’s once and future ace has returned.