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Verlander's parents share experiences in book

TROY, Mich. -- Justin Verlander's parents have learned how to take autograph seekers in stride when they're in town with their son. Now they're getting used to signing -- copies of their newly-released book, that is.

It's a turning of the tables that their superstar son is finding entertaining.

"They can figure it out just like I did," Verlander said with a smile. "They're having fun, though."

For retirement, it's a lot of fun. Verlander will get a chance to treat his parents while they're in town for Fathers Day weekend, but they have to sell some books first. They've spent the week on a book-signing tour around Michigan.

Richard Verlander jokes that they told Justin their goal with the book, 'Rocks Across the Pond,' was to embarrass him enough that he would buy all the copies. But it's actually less tell-all than it is how-to, a book that tells their experiences raising Justin and his little brother, Ben, in hopes of helping parents to help their kids find their talent and foster it without suffocating it.

"There's really nothing out there for parents," Richard Verlander said Thursday. "There's so much instruction for kids and so much in the way of advice, but for parents, there's really not a road map. That's really where the idea came from. ...

"At the end of the day, the finished product for us became much more than [baseball], because what we realized was that it's really more about raising successful kids and parenting and philosophy. Justin really becomes more of the anecdote. We'll say we feel this way about a certain issue, and then we'll have a story that supports that. That's what we hope, that it sort of transcends baseball and has some meaning for kids and their parents."

They've watched Justin grow from an energetic, talkative little kid who worried some teachers with his lack of focus into one of the most focused, talented players in baseball. They've kept involved every step of the way, which they say is critical.

They were the active Little League parents -- Richard helping coach teams, Kathy helping out. When they weren't coaching, they were fans. But the important part was involvement, their kids seeing that they were watching and interested.

Some of their decisions, like talking with former players, parents, evaluators and others before Justin selected Old Dominion University over bigger and better-known baseball schools, were choices that came from research, looking at school histories with arm injuries and chances to pitch. Some decisions, such as Richard stepping in with his experience as a union negotiator and helping his son finish his contract with the Tigers after the 2004 Draft, came from the heart as much as the mind. Others, the couple says, came down to chance.

"There's a lot that we kind of did from our gut along the way," Richard Verlander said. "But later on, we looked back and said sometimes we were just lucky. A lot of it is looking back and saying, 'You know, that turned out to be a really good decision.' But at the time, you're just kind of going with what you think is right."

They thank people who became involved in Justin's life, going as far back as his second-grade teacher, Mrs. Kramer, who told them that she liked his energy and he just needed a little focus, not medication as others suggested. One of these days, they remember her telling them, that energy will turn into something special.

"These people don't get celebrated enough, that have such a big impact on a person's life," Richard Verlander said. "And we all had them."

Said Kathy Verlander: "She helped us parent him better. She helped us learn to focus that energy, all the way through school -- strict discipline. He's a creature of habit. He likes order, structure. And so that's the way we parented him."

And they talk about Justin in a way that sounds a lot like the pitcher many people know today.

"I would say he was pretty strong-willed as a kid," Kathy Verlander said, "but in a good, healthy way. He was a very easy kid to raise. He didn't give us any trouble. He was funny. He talked a lot in school, so whenever we had school conferences, 'He's a great kid, he's wonderful, but if we had 20 of them, we'd be in trouble.'"

Justin Verlander has not read the book yet.

"I didn't want to be involved," he said. "I wanted them to do their own thing. This is something my dad especially has always [wanted to do]. We talked about it when he had the idea. He loves reading. He loves writing. He's always dreamed of writing a book. I'm kind of hands-off and letting them do their own thing."

The Verlanders have a ton of pictures from Justin's childhood, because that's what parents keep. They also have their share of mementos, including some of the gifts he bought his dad for Fathers Day growing up.

"He got some shirts," Kathy Verlander said. "We still have them: 'No. 1 Dad,' that you know you have to wear [even though] they're really goofy."

The gifts are a little bigger nowadays. Still, every once in a while, the parenting goes on. When they started receiving calls from friends a few years ago saying they saw Justin curse on the mound on TV, they asked him about it.

"He does cover his mouth [with his glove]," Kathy Verlander said.

Detroit Tigers, Justin Verlander