When A Former Coach Desperately Tried to Sign Justin Verlander After Spotting Potential for Greatness in Junior Year

Justin Verlander is living the dream life. He has Kate Upton as his better half and an MLB career to remember. But, there was a time when a former coach of his was desperate to sign him.

Published on Jun 17, 2024  |  06:37 PM IST |  31.6K
Justin Verlander and Kate Upton [Credit-Getty]
Justin Verlander and Kate Upton [Credit-Getty]

Justin Verlander has done a lot in his life so far. He leads the MLB in active wins, has over 3,400 career strikeouts, and won the MVP, Triple Crown, and Cy Young awards in the same season (2011). He also has a pair of World Series rings. 

Heck, he's married to Kate Upton. When everything is done, he will also eventually have a seat in Cooperstown. However, he did not always have all of these laurels, and not everyone recognized his name. He was simply a youngster from outside Richmond, Virginia, attempting to establish a name for himself as a right-handed pitcher.

Former Coach Terry Rooney was desperate to sign Justin Verlander

It just so happened that Terry Rooney, South Carolina's pitching coach/recruiting coordinator, discovered Verlander as a junior at Goochland High School. At the time, Rooney was a young assistant at Old Dominion. And, he was on the recruiting path during a tournament where Verlander was pitching.

Rooney told GamecockCentral, “They always throw the younger kids at the end of the weekend on Sunday afternoon cause nobody’s really recruiting them. I was at Old Dominion, I was there and I saw this big 6-foot-3 guy jogging in. He was like 86-88, 89 miles an hour, which is decent back then. So all you had to do was circle his name and send him a questionnaire, that was it.”

About two weeks later, Rooney saw Verlander pitch again, this time at the University of Richmond. He thought to himself, "Jeez, this is that Verlander kid again." And, it was much like what he had seen earlier. His fastball is in the upper 80s, but that's all.


In the spring, Rooney went out looking for possible prospects to pitch in tournament/showcase games across the DMV. However, due to severe weather, several of the games were postponed, as he noted. Then he wondered, "Where's Verlander pitching?"

“I find out it’s not raining and he lives right outside of Richmond. And I realize he’s pitching, everywhere else is rained out, so okay, let’s do it. I call the coach, I go to see the coach. He says we’re playing. I go to see him pitch,” Rooney said.

Justin Verlander was even throwing a pitch at 90 mph

On that day, Verlander reached speeds of high to 90 mph on the radar gun. Rooney followed up with him and was able to arrange for him to come see ODU. He realized if he wanted him on campus, he needed to convince him to commit early.

Verlander finally committed to ODU, which was a big changer as he entered his senior year. At the time, he was getting more glances from major institutions, as well as attention from professional scouts. Then there was a twist in the plot, as Rooney calls it.


“In his senior year, all of the scouts, cause now he’s a guy throwing a little bit harder — 90-92, 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4. A lot of the scouts came to see him pitch and he was sick. He wasn’t feeling good. I think he had strep throat, so the velocity was down for a few outings. Didn’t even get drafted out of high school,” Rooney recalled.

He shared, “Goes to Old Dominion, and he’s healthy and feeling good. Here we go, here comes the velocity, here comes the stuff, he’s back. And the rest is history.”

Meanwhile, Verlander went on to have a successful three-year career at ODU, finishing 21-18 with a 2.58 ERA. He pitched 17 full games, five of which were shutouts, with 427 strikeouts and 129 walks. 

The Detroit Tigers selected him with the second overall choice in the 2004 MLB draft. He went on to have a career that will almost probably land him in the Hall of Fame.


Also Read: Justin Verlander’s Wife Kate Upton REVEALS Their Daughter Thinks She’s Tennis Player

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About The Author

A graduate in journalism. Blesson is an Indore-based writer who has a keen interest in exploring sports news,



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