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Parents of Detroit Tigers’ Pitcher Justin Verlander Chosen as Little League Parents of the Year

Parents of Detroit Tigers’ Pitcher Justin Verlander Chosen as Little League Parents of the Year

Pitching for the Detroit Tigers, Justin Verlander has experienced much success on the field, including an appearance in the 2006 Major League Baseball World Series and throwing a no-hitter in 2007. Although displaying grit, intensity and competitiveness on the mound, his compassion and grounded persona away from the field remain a tribute to his parents, Richard and Kathy.

In recognition of the Verlanders enduring support and commitment to their children and the Little League program, they will be honored as the 2008 George and Barbara Bush Little League Parents of the Year at the 62nd Little League Baseball World Series later this month in Williamsport, Pa.

“Justin’s work ethic and competitiveness come naturally,” Mr. Verlander said. “Early on he showed he had the athleticism and intangibles to be a special player. None of us really knew however he’d become a Major Leaguer, we just hoped he be successful at whatever he did.”

Describing his son as a “late bloomer,” Mr. Verlander said that Justin threw his first pitch at age six, and since he was 10 his first love has been baseball.

The Verlanders encouraged their son to try baseball after taking a walk near a pond one day when Justin was young. As Mr. Verlander tells the story, “We were at a park one day. Walking along a trail, I picked up a rock and threw it half the way across a pond. Justin then picked up a rock and threw it all the way across the pond. At that point we knew he had a special arm.”

Playing in the Tuckahoe Little League in Virginia, Justin was coached by his father and made the league’s major division when he was 10.  Tuckahoe Little League has produced many quality players and teams over the years, highlighted by three trips to the World Series in Williamsport (1968, ’76, and ’93).

Certainly the league’s winning reputation motivated Justin, but his time for success would come later in life since his Little League all-star teams never got out of district play.

In Tuckahoe Little League, Justin played shortstop, third base and pitched. His dad said he was a pretty good hitter in Little League. Despite his youthful prowess with the bat, Justin did not have to step into the batter’s box during his college days at Old Dominion University (2001-2004); and at the Major League level, he is a career 0-for-12 at the plate.

“Justin worked very hard to get from one level to the next,” Mr. Verlander said. “As a parent you tell your child it’s great to have a dream, but you should always have a ‘Plan B.’ In Little League, Justin always went out to the mound to be successful, and to this date when he’s throws he likes to be in charge. That attitude and his expectations of himself come from his Little League days.”

As the Tigers top pick, second overall in the 2004 player entry draft, Justin quickly established himself as player to watch. He debuted in the Majors on Aug. 4, 2005 going 0-2 that year. In 2006, he secured a spot on the Tigers’ pitching staff out of spring training and compiled a 17-9 record with an earned run average (ERA) of 3.63 in 30 starts as the Tigers reached the World Series.

With a full year of Major League experience behind him, Justin pitched the Tigers to 18 wins in 2007. Posting an 18-6 record, with 183 strikeouts, and an ERA under 4.00 in more than 200 innings of work, he was selected as an American League All-Star, and was rated as having the best fastball and second-best curveball in the American League by Baseball America.

On June 12, 2007, Justin struck out 12 en route to pitching the first no-hitter in Comerica Park history and the first Tigers’ no-hitter since 1984, in a 4-0 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Not getting too high or too low is a life lesson stressed by the Verlanders. After Justin’s no-hitter, his boyhood hero Nolan Ryan called to congratulate him. Looking back on the no-hitter and that conversation with the Hall of Fame pitcher, Mr. Verlander remembered telling Justin, “Those are moments you hold on to, because there will be days when you have to hold it together, adjust and believe you belong there.”

Through the first week of August, the right-hander had a record of 8-12 with an ERA of 4.56 in 24 starts.

“Some of our fondest memories are of traveling with Justin’s Little League teams,” Mr. Verlander said. “The time we spent together as father and son, and as a family, were just as special as any accomplishments on the field. That’s what makes Little League great, because the most rewarding thing about the program is parents can get just as much out of the experience as the kids do.”

Kathy and Richard Verlander - George and Barbara Bush Little League Parents of the Year 2008

Mr. Verlander and his wife of 33 years, Kathy, reside in Goochland, Va., but the Verlanders talk with their son a couple times a week. The conversation is typically not a critique of the day’s performance, or full of coaching tips. For Mr. Verlander, it is his time to encourage his son to do his best and remind him that he has earned his success.

”I always call him after games,” Mr. Verlander said. “We don’t talk about mechanics. My role is to be supportive and tell him to keep his chin up. Ever since he was a Little Leaguer he’s been competitive when the game was on. Within a half an hour later you wouldn’t be able to tell if he won or lost, because he learned early on that this game will humble you in a minute.”

The George and Barbara Bush Little League Parents of the Year Award was established in 1980 and is presented annually to the parents of a Major League Baseball player who were actively involved in their son’s Little League experience. The award is named in honor of the 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush, and former First Lady Barbara Bush. Both were Little League volunteers during their children’s early years in Midland, Texas, and continue to support Little League today.

“For a person to achieve and excel, often the support from their family has comforted, educated or motivated depending on the person and situation,” Stephen D. Keener, President and Chief Executive Officer of Little League Baseball and Softball, said. “As Justin Verlander has shown, becoming a Major League Baseball player is an attainable dream, but during his time in Little League what was important was playing baseball and having fun. Mr. and Mrs. Verlander were there for Justin when he faced such challenges. They nurtured the balance between work ethic, the will to succeed and enjoying the game, and they did so in support of Little League. We are proud to present them with this award.”

More than recognition of one set of parents annually, the George and Barbara Bush Parents of the Year Award is designed to be a symbolic recognition of the millions of mothers and fathers who each year respond to the call of parental duty and help to provide a wholesome healthy arena for leadership training for the children of their respective communities.

Some of the past recipients of the award include: Mr. and Mrs. Jack Schmidt, (parents of Mike Schmidt, 1981), Mr. and Mrs. Carl Yastremski (parents of Carl Yastremski, 1989); Mr. and Mrs. Malcolm Mussina (parents of Mike Mussina, 1996), Dr. and Mrs. Charles Jeter (parents of Derek Jeter, 2000); Mr. and Mrs. Joe Varitek (parents of Jason Varitek, 2003) and last year’s recipients, Mr. and Mrs. Gene Bonderman, the parents of Justin’s teammate with the Tigers, Jeremy Bonderman.

Little League Baseball and Softball is the world’s largest organized youth sports program, with nearly 2.7 million players and one million adult volunteers in every U.S. state and scores of other countries.