"I chose my number because of Frank Thomas," says the Detroit ace. "When I was a kid [in Manakin Sabot, Va., pop. 3,800], the first time I had to pick my number was in Little League. There was a box of jerseys, and the coach goes, 'All right! Who wants what number?' I settled on Thomas because he could hit, and he's one of those guys everybody likes."

Once Verlander got to Goochland High, however, he had to rethink the 35. "The numbers didn't go that high," he recalls. "I had number 4, which just got retired [in honor of Verlander]. It's kind of weird that number 4 is a pitcher's retired number, but whatever.

"When I got to the majors, I was number 35 again," says the second-year big leaguer. "And when I faced Frank (above) for the first time, it was a full-circle moment. I stepped off the mound and was like Holy crap! I got him out. [A fly to center; Thomas is 1 for 7 overall against him.] I haven't ever talked to him—I've just said 'Hi.' But my girlfriend got me an autographed bat of his, to symbolize how it's come full circle."