As a sportswriter, I exist in two different worlds. There is a part of me that needs to remain objective, to not get emotionally involved, so that I’m able to write about deals, slumps, winning-streaks and more with a detached voice.
There’s also a part of me that is a fan, and loves a team, and becomes attached to the players on that team.
At midnight on Thursday, both parts came together. Justin Verlander was traded to the Houston Astros in a gut-wrenching will-they-or-won’t-they exchange that happened at the literal last minute. All the months of joking about Verlander’s starts being his last as a Tiger, and it turns out the real last start came against the Colorado Rockies. A win.
I had a story up minutes after the trade was finalized.
Fifteen minutes later I started crying.
I wasn’t a Tigers fan in 2006 during the World Series run. I know what that season meant to Tigers’ fans though. The drought following the 2003 tear-down was hard, and being able to see it come full circle must have been the light at the end of the tunnel. Verlander was the last Tiger remaining from that 2006 team, and now he’s gone, too.
The loss of Justin Verlander signals the end of an era for the Tigers. The dynasty from that 2006 team that spread through 2014, with four consecutive AL Central titles, a second trip to the World Series in 2012 (which I attended), and a thousand different memories. That time is over. By trading Verlander the Tigers made a smart move for their team, collecting three promising prospects and dropping a lot of contract cost in the process.
Logic doesn’t make this any easier, though.
My first memory as a Tigers’ fan was sitting with my then-boyfriend as he introduced me to the cast of characters that made up the early-2011 team. He pointed to Verlander and said, “That’s Justin Verlander. He’s the best pitcher in baseball.”
This wasn’t just fan hubris. At the time it was an undisputed fact. Verlander won the Cy Young and the AL MVP title that season. The Tigers came within inches of going to an ’06 World Series rematch against the Cardinals. I could not have picked a better year to be introduced to the team.
I once watched a bat explode after a check swing on a Verlander pitch that clocked in over 100mph. Explode.
Now that team is gone. The faces on the field have changed many times, but there were two constants: Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. Miggy is all that remains.
It’s easy to feel emotionally rash when a player you love leaves. I felt it when Max Scherzer signed with the Nationals. I felt it both times Alex Avila either left to free agency, or was traded. Baseball fans may love a team, but they come to love players as well. Seeing the drama of a season unfold over 162 games, it’s impossible not to become attached to the men on the field. They become an extended part of our lives, heroes and villains of the game. Verlander was a hero for Detroit. He was the face of the Tigers.
When he goes into the Hall of Fame — which he most certainly will — he will go as a Tiger, not an Astro. But there was a part of all of us that hoped he would never wear another jersey. That he would be a Tiger for life. When we see him take the mound in a different blue-and-orange later this month, it will be akin to seeing an ex out with a new significant other for the first time. You want the best for them, but it doesn’t ease the sting.
I want Justin Verlander to win a World Series ring. He deserves it, and it wasn’t going to happen with the Tigers.
Perhaps in two years he will return home to Detroit for one last stretch.
For now, though, I think it’s okay to let my fan heart take over from my writer’s brain, and feel the sadness of this change for a little while. So, let’s go ahead and cry.