Justin Verlander is arguably the best pitcher in the Major Leagues right now. He won the American League Cy Young award as well as the AL MVP in 2011 while posting a 24-5 record, 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts. His dominance on the pitchers mound knows know limits. But, he wasn’t always the king of the diamond. At one point, he was just another Tuckahoe Little Leaguer in Richmond,Virginia.
At a young age, his father knew that there was something special in little Justin. Richard Verlander knew early on that Justin had a lot more to work with than his fellow little leaguers. There was no guarantee that Justin would become a professional athlete though. The odds of a little leaguer making it to the big show are barely better than those of winning a power ball jack pot. It was with the right mix of parenting, motivation and values that brought Justin Verlander to where he is today.
Richard and his wife Kathy, the 2008 recipients of the George and Barabara Bush Little League Parents Of The Year Award, co-wrote a book about raising Justin and his brother Ben. The book, Rocks Across The Pond: Lessons Learned, Stories told, is full of pictures and insight about Justin’s rise from the sandlots of Richmond to his dominance at Goochland County High to his college career at Old Dominion and finally the Detroit Tigers.
Richard was kind enough to answer some questions for TFL about his book, staying humble, sibling rivalry and the importance of family.
Tell me a little bit about the book. What is it about and what can our readers gain from it?
The book is about our family’s incredible journey from Little League to the major leagues and everything in between. This story is actually more about the life lessons we have learned along the way, both as parents and observers, than it is about baseball. Our vision is to share our story with those who want to hear about it, but more importantly, to impart some philosophy as well offer some practical advice as it relates to raising happy successful children in today’s world.
When did you know that Justin had something special athletically?
The inspiration for our title “Rocks Across The Pond” was actually derived from just such a moment. Justin was about 10 years old, and he and I were skipping rocks across a nearby pond, when I decided to challenge him to a distance throwing contest. After my attempt splashed (somewhat feebly) about halfway across, Justin hurled a stone all the way across and into the trees on the opposite shore! I was astonished by what was one of the first of many instances that have become fondly known as “pinch me” moments…
When you realized how good Justin was, how did you keep him grounded and down to earth?
We have always tried to encourage humility in our sons by not letting them brag or boast at an early age, and later on by trying to provide perspective on how truly blessed we are. Today, good friends and family provide a sense of normalcy when celebrity status takes a backseat to the special bonds of lasting relationships.
Did he play any other sports?
Yes, Justin played golf and basketball in High School.
Tell me a little bit about Ben, Justin’s brother.
Ben is our youngest son. He is 20 years old and a rising junior at Old Dominion University where he is playing baseball and majoring in communications.
Is he more of a position player or pitcher? I saw that he was listed as both.
Ben has been both a position player and pitched in a relief role the last couple of years. His forte is more hitting, however. He is a Deans list student as well.
How does Ben handle having such a famous brother?
Ben embraces the idea that Justin is a world class athlete. But more importantly he looks up to him as a big brother and role model. (They are almost 10 years apart in age). Everywhere Ben goes people want to identify him by who his brother is, but upon getting to know him he quickly asserts his own personality, and among his friends and teammates he is known only as “Ben”.
Tell me about the rivalry between the two growing up. I’m assuming Justin dominated because he was older?
Yeah, no slack was cut either! He would always “stuff” Ben on the basketball court and dominate his little brother at every turn. Of course it was all in good spirit and to help Ben get better…. Also I must admit to not cutting Justin any slack myself when he was little. We had a lot of fun and were almost always competing at something.
Is there anything else you want our readers to know about your sons or the book?
Just this – Remind parents of just what a special time they have when their kids are young, and how quickly it is gone. You can never get those years back…There are many passages in our book that hold special meaning for us, but mine is “the most precious gift we have to offer our children is our time”.