Sometimes, a person just lucks into things. In my full time job, I don’t often get the chance to have a Friday evening off, but a month or so ago, I put in the request to get the evening off for a concert…only to find out two weeks before the show was sold out, leaving me with nothing to do. It was a few days later, a friend of mine got in touch with me, and mentioned that he and a large group of old friends were heading to a Tigers game. As luck would have it, the tickets were for this past Friday night, and they had extra.
I now had something new to do, and we were doing it in style. You see, my friends are from the West side of the state, and wanted to make an event out of it, so they rented a limo. I know that might seem a little over the top to go see a Tigers game, but hey, it allowed us to have a bunch of adult beverages without the driving. Not even my friends terrible taste in music (really guys, Kesha?) could ruin the good vibes we had on the way to the game.
Now, in a group party like this, you have a little bit of everything. The really drunk person or two. The couple of people that could care less about the game and are there to socialize. And then you have myself and a few others, diehard Tigers fans that enjoy any chance they get to head to Comerica Park. It was my group that knew about the potential that Friday night presented.
Justin Verlanderagainst a struggling Pittsburgh Pirates offense.
I probably needn’t remind you that Justin Verlander was on the mound the other night. People are still buzzing about his performance, and for good reason. He made pitching against a group of professionals on his same level look easy. You see, in sports, there are seldom few individuals that are worth the price of admission on their own, and Justin Verlander falls firmly within the category of one of those individuals. He has not only become one of the best baseball players on the planet, he has become one of the most accomplished athletes in sport today, and also one of the most recognizable. I’m not sure which is better, being one of the best at your craft, or getting to do a commercial with Kate Upton. Since he gets to do both, you wouldn’t think things could get much better for him, huh?
Thing is, that may not be entirely true. Why? Simply put, Justin Verlander is one of the best in the game right now, but is quickly heading towards being one of the best pitchers in Tigers history. Or even baseball’s history. In my lifetime, I have never seen another Tigers pitcher with Verlander’s ability, and few in baseball overall rival his talents. I’m sure even the great Jack Morris would tell you he would love to have Justin Verlander’s ability, and he was easily the best Tigers’ pitcher I had seen to this point. Morris was a bulldog, and one of the most competitive guys I have ever seen on a mound, and still is. Verlander not only is competitive like Morris, he has the Nolan Ryan arm to match.
Maybe someday he will have the 7 no-hitters Ryan had to match as well.
I could go over tons of numbers for Verlander, and yes, they are fantastic. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The numbers don’t tell you that every time Justin Verlander toes the slab in a start, there is a potential for a piece of history. A chance for a no-hitter. Or a chance for a perfect game. He toys with these things regularly enough at this point, it almost has become disappointing when he gives up a hit in the first five frames. We as fans have almost come to expect it. My hope is that we don’t become spoiled, and realize what we are getting to watch right now, and appreciate it.
I realized that on Friday night, as I stood in the nosebleed 3rd deck seats I had, that I had to appreciate what I was watching. I left my seat, and I rarely do that. While there really isn’t a bad view in Comerica Park, I knew that I could get a better view of the game in the lounge, away from all those distractions going on around you in a stadium filled with 41,000 people. It was the first fireworks show of the year after the game, and plenty of kids soaking in the atmosphere. I only hope their parents explained to them what they got to witness as the game went on.
There I sat, perched on a bar stool with other diehards, as innings four through seven passed for Verlander with ease, much like the first couple had. We didn’t utter the words “no-hitter”, but we all knew what was going on. The buzz in the bar begin to heighten after the sixth inning. Phrases like, “its going to happen tonight”, and “I haven’t seen one yet” were uttered by those around. Now, some might think saying things like that are a jinx, but you don’t jinx players of Verlander’s caliber. They only know one thing, and that is to dominate while making it look easy.
The eight inning went by as easy as the first seven, as Verlander once again went 1-2-3, like he had most of the night. By then, one of my friends had sought me out, and I knew at this point I was about to see my first ever no-hitter in person. Yeah, I spent much of it watching it on television in the lounge, but I headed back to the stands as the 9th inning approached to become one of the 40,000+ screaming in encouragement for Verlander to finish it. As the first out came, the roar filled the stadium. It was then Josh Harrison of the Pirates broke 40,000 people’s hearts with a softly hit, but clean, single through the middle of the diamond. And while the no-hitter for Verlander was lost, what wasn’t lost on me was the ovation that he received from the fans. It was a genuine appreciation of a fantastic performance, and maybe more so, a genuine appreciation of one of the best pitchers in the game.
I have been lucky enough now to see two Justin Verlander starts that have almost ended in a no-hitter. One last year, about a couple weeks after completing the task against the Toronto Blue Jays, and of course, the one on Friday night. I don’t remember the team that Verlander took into the 8th inning last year before allowing a hit, and maybe I won’t remember it’s the Pirates this time next year. That will more than likely be because Justin Verlander will either complete or flirt with another no-hitter at some point this summer. Like I said, it’s almost a normal thing for him.
That being said, it doesn’t make it any less special.
Things turned out very well for me the other night. The plans I had originally didn’t happen, but hey, I got to see the Tigers, got to party in a limo, and got to hang out with friends. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Well, unless the tickets you have just happen to fall on a night Justin Verlander pitches for the Tigers. It might even make a great night out what you would call…