If you've ever driven by a Taco Bell on a Saturday night, you know they're a high-traffic area on the weekends. But sometime during the sleepier hours of Wednesday evening, one of the Taco Bell locations north of Detroit will get its most valuable customer back, not to mention its least expensive spokesperson.
Justin Verlander will pull up, probably order his usual -- three crunchy taco supremes, no tomatoes, cheesy gordita crunch and a Mexican pizza, also no tomatoes, if he keeps to the same meticulous routine and dogged superstition he maintained last year and described on Conan in January -- and head home. And with that, his preparation for the 2012 season will be complete.
"What did I get myself into," Verlander jokingly asked himself about publicizing his ritual on national television.
He is not saying that about his offseason as a whole, from the awards circuit in November to the publicity rounds in January to marketing opportunities after that. But he also feels good about being able to balance that with his offseason workouts, from his strength-and-conditioning regimen to his meticulously maintained throwing schedule.
Once he takes the mound against the Red Sox at Comerica Park on Thursday at 1:05 p.m. ET, all the praise and the publicity he garnered for his 2011 season means nothing. What he has done to ready himself for 2012 means plenty.
"I feel good," Verlander said. "I've done what I wanted to do. Everything's ready to go."
If he can get off to a strong start, including an Opening Day victory, he'll be able to do something he couldn't last year. For that matter, he'll be able to accomplish something he has tried to do for years since he officially became Detroit's staff ace in 2008.
Lost in the dominance of Verlander's full-season numbers was the fact that the strength of it came from May into September. When he no-hit the Blue Jays last May 7, it was actually the start of his midseason roll, not the heart of it. Though he racked up quality starts in each of his first six outings before that, he was 2-3 with a 3.75 ERA over that stretch.
By most standards, it's a decent start. By Verlander's standards, it was much better than past years, but still not as good as he wanted. So when he began his offseason workouts, he did it again with a goal of getting his arm into midseason form as soon as possible without risking his health.
The line from Verlander last week when asked how quickly he gets into regular-season mode after his final spring start said it all.
"Season-mode Verlander started about a month ago," he said, deadpanning.
His preparation has rubbed off on others. Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer, Jacob Turner and Duane Below all began throwing earlier than normal over the winter to be better prepared for the start of the season. None of them, however, could do it quite like Verlander.
His early-season history has driven him through that extra work. He's 50 games over .500 with a 3.54 ERA for his career, but he's 9-14 with a 4.75 ERA in March and April. By comparison, he's 42-13 lifetime in May and June combined.
Verlander has never won an Opening Day start, though some of that recently has had as much to do with the opposing pitcher as himself.
Amazingly, only one of those openers has been at Comerica Park. When the Tigers have come home the last few years, Verlander has been able to soak it in as a spectator from the dugout. When he takes the mound Thursday, he'll have the sellout crowd and crazed atmosphere supporting him.
He began preparing for the Red Sox on Monday, when he threw his between-starts bullpen session while envisioning Red Sox hitters such as Jacoby Ellsbury. Preparing for the atmosphere for will be another matter.
"Oh yeah, it's going to be exciting," he said. "It's not going to be like your normal adrenaline level, but hopefully from having that experience in the postseason to having thrown a few Opening Days in a row now, you channel that energy and don't let it get to you at all."
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.