Verlander Looking Forward To Upcoming Season

February 08, 2004
By ODU Athletics
ODU Sports

Feb. 8, 2004

By DeAndre' Phillips Old Dominion University Student Intern

Justin Verlander was only five years old playing little league baseball when he recognized that his arm was better than most kids his age. By his freshman year at Old Dominion, Verlander still knew his arm was better than most, but he discovered that he had a major league arm.

"It never really clicked," Verlander said. "When I was younger, I knew I could throw harder than most people, but I never thought I could play at the next level until I played in college."

Verlander, whose pitches top 96 mph, is a projected first round pick in the upcoming Major League Baseball draft.

During his freshman campaign, the 6-foot-4-inch righthander from Goochland, Va. struck out 137 batters, including a school record 17 versus James Madison, and led the Colonial Athletic Association with a 1.90 ERA despite a 7-6 record. He was named First Team Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America while also being named CAA Rookie of the Year.

Verlander followed his stellar rookie season with a solid sophomore season, compiling a second straight 7-6 record. He broke the Old Dominion single-season strikeout mark and led the conference in strikeouts for consecutive years with 139 in just 116 innings. He was named a Preseason All-American while fanning nine or more batters nine times.

Yet Verlander's biggest accomplishment on the diamond may have come away from Old Dominion.

This summer, Verlander was a member of the USA Pan Am team that went 27-2 en route to winning the silver medal.

"(Verlander) was kind of this mystical figure before we met at the trials," Team USA teammate and CAA foe Justin Orenduff of Virginia Commonwealth University told Baseball America. "Then I saw him throwing 95 or 96 mph, and now I know the myth."

Verlander went 5-1 with a 1.31 ERA, for Team USA.. Opposing hitters batted .188 against him and he led the team with 41 strikeouts, fanning 39 in his five wins.

Verlander was also on the on mound for three of the program's record 13 shutouts, nearly doubling the old record of seven set in 1989.

This summer's experience proved to be valuable on many levels for Verlander. "It was awesome playing against the competition," he said. "I learned what's it like to play at the next level."

"I got different perspectives from different coaches. I really learned a lot from (USA pitching coach) David Cooke," he continued. "He taught me what pitches to throw in certain situations. When he called the pitches I just took it all in."

Now Verlander wants to bring a winning attitude back to Old Dominion. "This summer, I finally got the opportunity to win," he said. "I now know what it feels like. I can bring back that mentality to our team, and hopefully we can get things turned around." Verlander is already a pre-season All-American selection.

After college, the communications major will pursue his dream of playing professional baseball. But if baseball doesn't work out, Verlander will fall back on a career related to his field of study.

"If baseball doesn't work out, I may go into public relations ,'" he said. "Right now I'm focusing on baseball. I'm working hard at pursuing that goal."

The Monarchs open the regular season on Feb. 13 with a three-game series against Navy. Friday's game begins at 7 p.m.

The ODU-VCU CAA series and a possible matchup with Team USA pitching teammate Justin Orenduff will be April 9-11 at the Bud Metheny Baseball Complex. This year's CAA Championships will be hosted by UNC Wilmington, May 25-29, while the annual Scholarship Game-Bank of the Commonwealth Classic with the Norfolk Tides (New York Mets AAA affiliate) will be April 6 at Harbor Park.

For ticket information, please call 683-5484.