Wednesday's MLB: Justin Verlander, Kate Upton unite service dogs with veterans

Associated Press
Astros pitcher Justin Verlander meets with veterans Wednesday.

West Palm Beach, Fla. — Justin Verlander and Kate Upton combined two passions, creating the perfect marriage to help veterans suffering from PTSD.

Their program is named Adopt. Rescue. Heal. It trains rescue dogs to become service dogs, then places them with veterans, aiding with the transition to civilian life.

“We’re so excited to finally pair these dogs with their veterans,” said the Houston Astros pitcher. “I think we all can agree that animals are so healing — at least in our family they are. I think it’s such a great opportunity to help these veterans heal through animals.”

The first four veterans will receive their dogs, all mixed breeds, this week. The Astros honored the men and their dogs before Wednesday’s spring training game against the New York Yankees.

For Coy Webb, who served two naval tour on the USS John F. Kennedy in the Persian Gulf, the occasion marked his public debut with new companion Emily.

“I’m taken aback,” Webb said. “It amazes me that there are still people out there that really care about the vets today in this world, with all the things that are going on. It just is real heartwarming. Emily is a lifesaver, a godsend. She’s going to help me so much.”

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Verlander and Upton married in November of 2017. Adopt. Rescue. Heal. is a combination of sorts between their two philanthropic efforts, Upton’s Grand Slam Adoption pet rescue charity and Verlander’s Wins for Warriors foundation aiding veterans.

“I think dogs are so healing and through some of the stuff that we’ve done and helping empower veterans coming back dealing with PTSD, these service animals really were something that popped up as something that helps these men and women a lot,” Verlander said.

Ernie Rivera, an army veteran who returned from Iraq suffering from PTSD, put the canines through a four-month training program as part of his Valor Medical Service Dogs program located outside of Orlando.

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The dogs were rescued from the Houston ASPCA. Rivera personally selected both the dogs and the recipients.

The four dogs represent the program’s inaugural class.

“These veterans here didn’t pay a dime for any of this,” said Rivera, accompanied by his service dog Xander. “With the partnership that we have now we’ll be able to help a lot more.”

Papa John’s Houston, one of the program’s sponsors, paid to fly the Houston-area veterans to West Palm Beach for a weeklong training session with their new dogs.

“This is what it’s all about, being able to help veterans and see the smiles on their faces and make their transition back into life easier,” said Verlander, the former Tiger.

White Sox extending Jimenez

The White Sox are nearing a $43 million, six-year contract with highly regarded outfield prospect Eloy Jimenez, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity Wednesday because the deal had not been agreed to.

The contract would include team options for 2025 and 2026 that if exercised would make the agreement worth $77.5 million over eight years.

Jimenez’s deal would nearly double the previous high for a player with no major league service: Scott Kingery’s $24 million, six-year contract with Philadelphia before 2018 season.

Jimenez was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte on March 13. If the 22-year-old is kept in the minor leagues for the first 20 days of the season, it would push back his free agent eligibility by one year until after the 2025 season.

Jimenez was a key part of the trade that sent pitcher Jose Quintana to the crosstown Cubs during the 2017 season. Jimenez hit .337 with 22 homers and 75 RBIs at Double-A and Triple-A last season.

Around the horn

Rookie Brandon Lowe, who made his big league debut last August, has agreed to a $24-million, six-year contract with the Rays.

Lowe’s deal includes club options for 2025 and 2026 with escalators based on MVP voting that could make the agreement worth $49 million over eight seasons.

The 24-year-old infielder and outfielder has just 58 days of major league service.

... The Reds’ first African-American player has died at the age of 94. The team says Charles “Chuck” Harmon died Tuesday, nearly 65 years after he made his debut against the Braves in Milwaukee on April 17, 1954. It did not provide details.

... Former Tigers outfielder Matt Joyce has reached agreement on a minor-league deal with the Giants following his release by the Indians.

... The Indians cut former Tigers reliever Alex Wilson.