Justin Verlander Saddened By New Reality At Comerica Park

His second trip home wasn't quite as poignant as his first.

Will Burchfield
May 16, 2019 - 9:39 am

© Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports


It's not the same anymore, and this no longer feels so strange. Once a realm of star players, big crowds and even better baseball, Comerica Park has felt more like an empty factory building for the better part of two years. Within time, the workforce will return and the machines will whir back to life. 

But, right now, this is the inevitable reality of a rebuild, a rebuild that was inevitable in itself. 

And so on Wednesday night with the Astros in town and Justin Verlander back on the mound, a sparse crowd shuffled through the gates and watched what it has come to expect. The Tigers went quietly, and the Astros swept a series in which they barely bent over. This used to be the other way around. 

These days, singular voices stand out at Comerica Park. The air is far too still to drown them out. After mostly cruising through seven innings of one-run ball against his former team, Verlander laughed and said he kept hearing a heckler in left field. 

"You suck!" the heckler yelled again and again, and maybe he was just projecting on the situation at large. It'd be hard to blame him. 

Otherwise, the fans cheered Verlander here and there, and Verlander acknowledged them a couple times by tipping his cap. He said it's "really special" to know he still occupies a place in their heart. But this wasn't like last year, when he returned for the first time and the emotions were still raw

This was Verlander's introduction to the new reality in his old home. 

"It’s kind of sad. Most of my memories here, this ballpark was packed and fans were rowdy," he said. "This is obviously a bit different now, but that comes with winning. You put a winning product on the field and the fans show up. Nothing against these guys, I know they’re grinding and playing the best baseball they can, but it comes down to winning." 

If this was supposed to be a family reunion, most of the clan couldn't make it. Even Miguel Cabrera was scratched from the lineup with a sore knee. It would have been his first time facing his longtime teammate. When the two met up on the field Monday afternoon, big smiles splashed across their faces, Cabrera challenged Verlander to bring it on Wednesday. 

"Oh, you know I'll bring it!" Verlander replied. 

It's too bad he never got the chance. Well, depends who you ask. 

"No, no," Verlander said with a laugh. "We talked about it a bunch when we played together. I don’t know what I would have done to him, I’ve seen him be such a prodigious hitter for so long. You have all these moments in your head that you just have flashbacks to and it’s like, alright, well, he’s hit that pitch, he’s hit that pitch, he’s hit that pitch." 

The only one to get Verlander on Wednesday was JaCoby Jones, who ran into a fastball and sent it over the left field fence in the third inning for one of Detroit's two hits on the night. Verlander walked off the mound a few innings later with another win in the bag, the 99th of his career at Comerica Park, his second for the road team.

Maybe, even if he can't admit it publicly, Verlander has plans to one day pitch again for the home team. And maybe that desire was stoked, just a little, after seeing what's become of the place where he grew up. Verlander was quick to respond when asked if he'd like to see the Tigers regrow into a contending bunch. 

"Of course," he said. "I still follow these guys, still watch all the guys I played with. I’m rooting for them, especially a few guys over there. (Matthew) Boyd, (Daniel) Norris, Miggy, Nick (Castellanos), the guys I played with for quite a few years. I think you always root for your friends. You’re not wishing ill will on anybody until I'm facing them. Other than that, I’m pulling for them." 

On Monday, Verlander said one of the biggest regrets of his career -- maybe the biggest -- was failing to win a World Series for Mike Ilitch. It's nothing he can change now, even if were ever to return. He struggled with that word -- regret -- Wednesday night. He can live with the failure because he knows he tried. 

"Thinking back, regret, I gave everything I possibly had," Verlander said. "It's one thing I look at and I’m disappointed about, but I don’t sit back and think of those moments and how we came so close. I did for a long time. But winning one, personally, kind of exorcises some of those demons and some of those memories. You remember one pitch here and there, that can dwell on you.

"But I’m definitely disappointed we weren’t able to pull it off here. Always will be." 

Who knows if he'll ever have the chance to change that. For what it's worth, he'll be a free agent in 2022, right around the time a certain rebuild should be coming to fruition, and he has plans to pitch until he's 45 years old. He turned 36 this winter. 

Surely, it would bring Verlander joy to turn the lights back on this building.