Culture / Sporting Life

Justin Verlander Credits His Adorable Daughter With a Major Change In His Preparation — The Astros Ace Isn’t So Superstitious As a Dad

In Another Game 1 Start In This All-Texas American League Championship Series, It's On Verlander to Once Again Set a Houston Tone

BY // 10.15.23

Justin Verlander admits he used to be extremely intense with his pre-start routines. And maybe a little wacky. He wouldn’t even let anyone tidy up and put away the plate he ate his customary game day cheeseburger on. Are you crazy? That would have been tempting fate.

“Nobody was allowed to clean it up,” Verlander confesses, a little sheepishly. “I must have been running late and left a plate out and had a really good game (once). That stuck around for a while.”

The Houston Astros’ ageless ace is somewhat different man heading into his start in Game 1 of this Lone Star State showdown of an American League Championship Series between the Texas Rangers and the Astros. Oh, Verlander still goes with that pre-game meal of a cheeseburger and a Caesar salad that’s served him so well over the years.

But he’s not quite as hyper vigilante and fickle about the rest of it. He can put away his dirty plates.

For that, Verlander credits his daughter Genevieve, who will turn 5 shortly after the World Series ends. The three time Cy Young winner is finding that being a happy dad to an energetic preschooler leaves less time to obsess over the littlest of things.

“I think my daughter has helped me a lot,” Verlander says. “Just being able to kind of get out of my own way sometimes before games. And I try to enjoy the time with her before I come to the field. And it’s a pleasant distraction from what’s to come.”

Dad Life is treating Verlander well. He has given up one run in the last 19 innings, striking out 19 in those three starts and collecting wins in all three games. This lights out Verlander run covers three of the Astros’ biggest games of this defending the crown season so far. Arguably the three biggest.

That would be series opener of the Astros’ last set with Seattle, the 1-0 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks that gave the Astros the chance to win the American League West on the final day of the regular season and the playoff opener vs. the Twins. Dad’s been locked in without being so caught up in his own head.

Astros Justin Verlander faced off against the Baltimore Orioles at Minute Maid Park,
Astros ace Justin Verlander can still turn back the clock. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Of course, being Genevieve’s father brings a whole set of rewards outside of the often cloistered world of professional baseball.

“I mean, she’s just the light of my life,” Verlander says on the eve of his Game 1 ALCS start. “So it’s fun to spend time with her.

Any good dad can relate to that. Of course, Verlander may be a little more relaxed thanks to his home life with Genevieve and his wife Kate Upton, but he still locks in on start days once he leaves his home. And makes a Starbucks run on the way to Minute Maid Park. Verlander knows how precious these playoff moments are.

“When you show up that day, it’s different,” he says. “It’s busy. It’s a little more strict. And you’re not coming, goofing off with people. If you’re taking it seriously, obviously, that counts.

“If you’re taking it seriously, you’ve prepared months, years, a lifetime for these moments. You’re not just going to treat it like any other day.”

On this Sunday night in front of a national TV audience on Fox, Justin Verlander will try to set the tone for another mammoth Astros series in what’s anything but just another day. It’s what he does. Verlander held the New York Yankees (remember when they were a playoff team?) to one run while striking out 11 in only six innings in Game 1 of the last ALCS.

“I think my daughter has helped me a lot. Just being able to kind of get out of my own way sometimes before games. And I try to enjoy the time with her before I come to the field. And it’s a pleasant distraction from what’s to come.” — Astros ace Justin Verlander

Of course, things are different this time with the all-Texas element (the Buc-ee’s Backyard Brawl if you will) adding a very new and unusual element.

“It’s definitely like the Eagles-Cowboys in the NFC Championship,” Astros outfielder Chas McCormick says. “So yeah, it’s going to be fun. It’s the Texas showdown. It’s gonna be pretty awesome. Wherever we go, it’s going to be filled with Rangers and Astros fans.”

Justin Verlander isn’t really worried about all that. He just wants to hang out with his daughter. Eat his cheeseburger (he still does change where he gets it from sometimes — depending on how a start went), make his Starbucks run and take on another mammoth start.

It turns out the Dad Life and the Big Game Ace’s World work rather well together. Verlander is still making big pitches while fussing over the little things outside of baseball much less. He has a more important person to hang out with now.

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