Vinnie Pasquantino has already had several “welcome to the big leagues” moments since being promoted to the majors by the Kansas City Royals. The left-handed hitting slugger will likely have another one on Thursday if he steps in the batter’s box against a figure that’s loomed over a large chunk of his baseball life.
Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander is an eight-time All-Star, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, a former MVP and ALCS MVP and a former World Series champion and Rookie of the Year. He has won an ERA title and has led the majors in wins multiple times.
Verlander’s track record alone makes him a memorable matchup for any rookie still within his first two weeks in the majors, as is the case with Pasquantino. But because of their shared background as products of Old Dominion and natives of the state of Virginia, Verlander’s start on Thursday against the Royals will likely mean a little more to Pasquantino.
“His face is on the wall, so you see him every day,” Pasquantino said. “There was pictures of him everywhere, and then on the outfield wall there’s a picture of him. Every big-leaguer that goes there — so I’ll get on the wall at some point — if you make it to the big leagues and you went to Old Dominion, you get your picture on the wall, which is pretty cool.”
Before all of the MLB accolades, Verlander was one of the baseball players you knew about, followed and probably wanted to emulate if you grew up anywhere in the vicinity of Richmond, Virginia, like Pasquantino.
Verlander went to Goochland High School, roughly a half hour away from where Pasquantino attended high school at James River High.
Then Pasquantino just so happened to play baseball at Verlander’s college alma mater in Norfolk, Virginia.
Pasquantino, 24, is 15 years younger than Verlander. Verlander left ODU in 2004 as the second overall pick in the MLB Draft. But Verlander’s legacy is well established.
“He’s somebody that everybody from that area follows,” Pasquantino said. “And then, if you went to Old Dominion, you definitely know who he is, too. So it’s pretty cool to be playing against each other.”
Pasquantino enjoyed a decorated career at Old Dominion as a three-year starter (he was drafted after his junior year). He garnered freshman All-America honors, All-Conference USA and All-Region honors.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Pasquantino still had not met Verlander. But he has met his younger brother Ben, who also played at Old Dominion and was All-America in 2013. Ben, who was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 2013 and played five seasons in the minors, now serves as an MLB analyst for Fox Sports.
Verlander is having an impressive bounce-back season after missing all of 2021 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery.
This season, Verlander has gone 10-3 with a 2.03 ERA, a 0.83 WHIP and a .183 opponent’s batting average.
“I know his brother a little bit and I’ve met his parents before, but I’ve never met him,” Pasquantino said. “So that’ll be cool on Thursday. I don’t think he has ever faced another guy from Old Dominion before. I’m not sure.
“But it’s pretty cool because he was always a guy that anybody from that area knew about and kind of followed.”