Monday, the Tigers and their All-Star right-hander announced the creation of Verlander's Victory for Veterans program. Verlander will use his personal suite at Comerica Park to host local veterans who suffered injuries serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, as well as their families.
"He wants to ... commend and congratulate and honor the sacrifice and dedication that all of our veterans have shown, [those] recently returning from Iraq and Afghanistan," Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "And for everything that they do for our country, he's here to thank them through this program."
The program has quietly been going on for a little while, but the team announced it to the public in a press conference at Comerica Park.
It wasn't a grand plan from Verlander, but a little gesture that has meant a lot to those who have been able to take in a Tigers game.
"Thanks to the Tigers organization and Mr. [team owner Mike] Ilitch, I have the opportunity to have a suite here at the ballpark," Verlander said. "And the first time I had the opportunity to use the suite, my girlfriend Emily, did, it was one of my first starts here at home, and it didn't go very well. So me and Emily, both being somewhat superstitious, decided that that's never going to happen again. The suite is not going to be used on my start days."
While on the field just before a game, Verlander continued, he noticed the recent Tigers tradition of having a veteran bring the game ball to the mound and be recognized by the crowd. It's a cause that hits home for him becuase he has a cousin, Christopher Verlander, currently deployed in Afghanistan. His grandfather, Richard Verlander, is a World War II veteran.
"We decided that it would be a good idea to let them use the suite on days I'm not using it," Verlander said. "Why not, just to say my appreciation and say my thank-you? The feedback we got was tremendous. I got so many letters and responses, not just because of the injured veterans or whoever was using the suite at the time, but their families as well. They got to share this moment with their family, which is not something that happens very often."
The result was a formal program this season.
"The situation is extremely exciting for me to be able to say thank you," Verlander said.
The suite holds about 18 people, which allows for up to three veterans and their families to use it for a game. The injured veterans come from the John D. Dingell Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Detroit, and the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System, on the recommendation from officials at both facilities.
Four injured veterans were on hand for the announcement, including Sgt. Joshua Sparling, who served in Iraq from 2004-2008 with the Army 82nd Airborne. They all received Verlander jerseys, which he signed after the press conference.
"This is great," Sgt. Sparling said. "We've been Tigers' fans our whole lives, especially my family and my wife and her family. It's been a long recovery. For him to be able to bring us all to the ballpark and in awesome seats, it's a real treat. I knew he was really dominant on the mound and a really good pitcher. It's nice to know that his heart's just as big."