Clemente nominee Verlander keeps vets in mind

Clemente nominee Verlander keeps vets in mind

Clemente nominee Verlander keeps vets in mind
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander has pitched his way to stardom as one of the most dangerous arms in baseball. Now that he's arguably the face of the Tigers, he's finally getting recognition for the work he has been doing off the field in the only home city he has known in his Major League career.

That work took new steps this year, and so did the recognition. For the first time in his career, Verlander has been nominated for Major League Baseball's Roberto Clemente Award, which recognizes players for their efforts in the community.

At the end of a season in which Verlander gave his suite at Comerica Park to veterans on the days he starts, baseball is giving him some well-deserved recognition. But while Verlander basks in the spotlight on days when he takes the mound, he'd rather do a lot of his charitable efforts in the background.

"Obviously, it means a lot," Verlander said Friday, "but that's not why I do anything. I probably would rather have it the other way. But at the same time, I've been put in a position where I'm able to do a lot of things."

One of those things was the Verlander's Victory for Veterans program, which allows servicemen and women with injuries from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan to enjoy a game with their family from Verlander's private suite at the park on days he pitches. The suite holds about 18 people, which allows up to three veterans and their families to use it for a game.

In addition, Verlander has lent his face to several deserving causes in the area. He recorded public service announcements for C.A.T.C.H., the charity former Tigers manager Sparky Anderson began to help improve the lives of needy children receiving treatment in local hospitals.

Verlander explained how the idea came about earlier this summer.

"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.

"We decided that it would be a good idea to let them use the suite on days I'm not using it. 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."

All 30 nominees have immersed themselves in the type of humanitarian and community efforts that distinguished the life of Clemente, a life that ended at age 38 on New Year's Eve, 1972, when the plane he was using to deliver aid to Nicaraguan earthquake victims crashed.

Fans will once again have the opportunity to participate in the selection of the national winner. They can cast votes for any of the 30 club nominees through Oct. 9.

The fan-ballot winner will be tallied as one vote among those cast by a special selection panel of baseball dignitaries and media members. The panel includes Commissioner Bud Selig and Vera Clemente, widow of the Hall of Fame right fielder.

Voting fans also will be automatically registered for a chance to win a trip for four to the 2011 World Series to see the national winner presented with the Roberto Clemente Award.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.