Ben Verlander debuts, cheered by older brother

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Justin Verlander is still looking for his first hit in a Tigers uniform. His younger brother, Ben, would've loved nothing more than to become the first Verlander to do that.

The way Justin was cheering him on as he stepped to the plate with the bases loaded Friday, he probably wouldn't have minded either.

"I think he's past the point of thinking he's going to get his first hit, before me at least," Ben Verlander said. "It's kind of become a joke between us now. I used to say something and he'd get mad at me."

Hours after Justin Verlander threw a live batting-practice session in what he hopes is the last step before his first start this spring, Ben Verlander made his first game appearance ever in a Tigers uniform. The Minor League outfielder, a 14th-round Draft pick by the Tigers last year, was called up from Minor League camp for the day as an extra player for Detroit's home split-squad game with the Yankees, a 7-4 loss.

On most early Spring Training days, Justin is gone by the seventh inning. When Ben entered as a defensive replacement in the seventh, Justin was standing at the top of the dugout steps cheering.

"Justin had mentioned something to me, so I told him I'd try to get him in," manager Brad Ausmus said. "Ben seemed like he got as big of an applause as Justin."

When Ben stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom half, most of the stadium was cheering. The former Old Dominion University slugger was used to blocking out crowd noise, but he couldn't help but notice.

Verlander struck out swinging at a Brian Gordon breaking ball. He flew out to right field in the eighth against Chase Whitley, after which Justin came out and greeted him.

"He just told me he was proud of me," Ben Verlander said.

That leaves Ben Verlander 0-for-2 for the Tigers this spring. His older brother, however, is 0-for-26 in the regular season.

"Knowing a lot of these guys since Justin's been in the organization, and being able to take batting practice, to be able to come out here today and play with these guys, to this point is one of the best experiences of my life," Ben Verlander said. "To say there weren't nerves would be a lie. There were a lot of nerves. ... Just to be able to play with these guys on this stage in this atmosphere, it's really one step closer to my dream coming true."

Jason Beck is a reporter for 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.