March 4, 2004


Catching up with Justin Verlander of Old Dominion

By Sean Ryan Co-Founder


Editor's Note - The following interview was printed on on March 4, 2004, as part of a look at Justin Verlander of Old Dominion and Justin Orenduff of VCU.


They’re two of the best pitchers in the country and happen to be within a two-hour drive down I-64 in Virginia. They’re both juniors and could be first-round draft picks in this June’s Major League Draft. And after playing together on Team USA last summer, they’ve gotten to be pretty good friends, but will have to put that friendship aside when they square off April 9 in Norfolk - a game both have circled.


On the surface, Old Dominion’s Justin Verlander (6-4, 200 pounds, right-hander, Goochland, Va.) doesn’t have the record in his first two years you’d think a potential first-round draft pick might have: 14-12. That’s deceptive. In 30 career stats, Verlander has completed an incredible 15 games and has a career ERA of 2.15. He’s struck out 276 batters and walked 88 in 230 innings. In three starts this year, he’s 1-1 with a 0.78 ERA with 25 Ks and 11 hits in 23 innings. Opponents are hitting .139 against him.


Why ODU when you came out of high school? What brought you down to play for the Monarchs?


They did a really good job recruiting. When I was recruited here, Terry Rooney [now at Notre Dame] was the pitching coach. He did a good job, I liked the program. That year, I think they were ranked 14th in the nation, so obviously they were a good program then. And they’ve always been a good program. They’re one of the best around. I felt that coming here, I could help the team, and be able to have a chance to play.


How big was that, having a chance to play early?


I think that was really big. Looking back on it now, the experience I gained my freshman year was huge. If I had gone to a school where maybe I wouldn’t have had a chance to play my freshman year, I think that would have hindered my progress a lot. I matured a lot on the mound my freshman year. That helped a lot.


About your freshman year, you had some instant success (CAA rookie of the year). Was it surprising to go from high school where you were dominant to doing so well in college?


Not really. You can’t really plan for not succeeding. I always thought that I’d do well in any situation and that I would rise to the challenge at whatever level. Hopefully the next level I’ll step up and do just as good as in college. I always expected I’d do well. I never doubted my God-given talent. I just went out and did what I could, and it ended up being good. I ended up having a good season.


You’re 14-12 over two years. It’s not indicative of the job that you’ve done on the mound. Does it get frustrating you’re not winning as many as you deserve or that others pitchers around the country are winning more?


I really don’t deserve to win any more games than I have. We’ve been in games, and I’ve lost some for the team. Throughout the past two years, I’ve given up a couple runs that I shouldn’t have given up, and we could have won the game. And it goes the other way. We could have won some games that we didn’t. when I look at other pitchers doing very well with the wins and losses, I really don’t mind. They’re doing good, and I’m not really jealous or anything. I’m proud of them. Like my friend Orenduff, he’s doing really well. I’m not going to be upset that he’s doing good. Congratulations. I’m just going to go out and do the best I can. I can’t worry about how they do.


Team USA, it had to be a fantastic experience for you.


It was unbelievable. We started out traveling up and down the East Coast, playing all those games. That was fun, doing that, and coming in places…and guys would look up to us, and we would just play and have fun…It all climaxed when we got to go down to the Dominican Republic and represent the USA in the Pan-American games, which was unbelievable. I can’t really explain the feeling representing your country. It was awesome, an awesome summer.


Someone you’ve gotten to know from that experience is Justin Orenduff. Talk about Justin. Justin on Justin. What makes him so good? What does he do well and what do you admire?


This summer, we roomed together, played together, we were roommates all summer, so we got to know each other. He’s a really good guy. After I got to know him, we became pretty good friends. We’ve been hanging out some this year, like when he comes back to Norfolk or when I go up to Richmond, we’ll get together sometimes.


He’s a great pitcher and is really talented. He’s got a good fastball, he’s really deceptive, hides the ball well, and he’s got a devastating slider that is just nasty, one of the best I’ve ever seen. He really impressed me this summer with his pitching ability.


Is the slider the key to what he does?


His slider’s definitely his out pitch. He uses that a lot when he gets in jams. He can throw it for a strike whenever he wants.


I know some of the SIDs and the college world are excited about it, but do you circle that date in April? Is there some fun to be had knowing that come April if you’re both healthy that you guys get to face off?


Definitely, definitely, I can’t wait. Last year we had our game together. We both got the no decision. We kind of made fun about that this summer, joked on each other, saying wait till next time. Before you know it, it’s going to be here. I’ll say hi to him before the game but it’s strictly business until after the game. Out on that mound, I’m not anybody’s friend (laughs).


Any personal goals or any team goals for the Monarchs?


Obviously, we don’t want to just do better than last year. We’re coming off an 18-win season, which was horrendous. It wasn’t really a fun season. We had a tough beginning schedule last year…and we got into a funk and started losing a few games and it was downhill from there. We never really came back from that. We’re not just trying to do better than last year, but a lot better. We want to have at least 30 wins. Maybe 40. Our schedule is tough, but not as tough as it was last year. We have a good chance to get some momentum and go on and play well. Our hitting is looking tremendous this year. We’re looking a lot better at the plate…and our defense, we’ve got a good solid defense this year…our whole team is young, but Coach Guzzo was telling us early in the year that some of the best teams he’s ever had were some real young teams…we’re inexperienced, but I think we can be really good.


You’re the old man now.

(Laughs) Yeah, we have no seniors on the pitching staff. Me and James Burok are the old guys on the staff.


(The Quick Hit section)


What’s your major?




What do you hope to do with that if baseball doesn’t pan out?

Maybe get into broadcasting or something along those lines, hopefully something sports-related?


You want to write for a college baseball Web site?

I could see doing that.


What do you like to do in your spare time?


We’re so busy with everything. Spare time, I just like to hang out. Good friends, just kind of chill and relax. A lot of people in their spare time like to go out and go do stuff during the day. We get such little spare time, it just feels good to hang out and just lounge.


Favorite players? I think Nolan Ryan’s up there?


Yeah, I tend to watch pitchers more. I like that bulldog mentality that Roger Clemens is so famous for. Randy Johnson. I like guys that are similar to me, they go out and they’re a bulldog on the mound.


All those guys are power pitchers.


I like power pitchers, too (laughs).


Any favorite teams out there?


The Braves are my favorite team. Their Triple-A club is in Richmond, so I grew up watching a lot of their games and seeing some of the major leaguers go through.


Anybody at that time that you knew would be a star?


When I was younger, Mark Wohlers was coming through, and I liked him a lot. I ended up getting his autograph on one of my old gloves. This is before I knew he was going to be what he was, and he ended up being really good. But I kept playing with that glove, his autograph wore off (laughs).


Any hobbies outside of baseball?


I like to be active, I like to play other sports. I like to play basketball but that’s kind of tough in season because you don’t want to get hurt. I talked to Cal Ripken this summer, and he was saying how he liked to play basketball a lot and that’s how he kept in shape. I was kind of like, hmm, I like to do that, too. But you have to be careful, tape your ankles up good and all that.


You haven’t been talking to Aaron Boone have you?


(Laughs) No.


Any nicknames?

The call me Gooch because I’m from Goochland, that’s about it.


How do you like it?


It’s all right. It doesn’t bother me. I don’t mind where I’m from.


What’s something that people don’t know about you? Something that even your closest friends don’t know about you? Maybe it’s that you’re a big fan of American Idol?


I don’t know, that’s a tough one. Maybe that I can be a sensitive guy. I do like American Idol, but I don’t hide that. I’ll watch that at home with all the guys around. I really don’t care. Yeah, I can be a pretty sensitive guy, I have a girlfriend and we’re pretty close, so I guess they don’t really see that side of me. Hardly ever.


So it’s a different person than who’s on the mound?


Oh man, oh, yeah.


(photos courtesy of ODU Media Relations Office)