Their summers in Islip were spent playing baseball, and the three older Veryzer brothers eventually realized the youngest one, Tom, had the best chance to make it to the major leagues.
The shortstop proved them right with a 12-year career. "The one who did was the one who we thought would," Jerry Veryzer said Wednesday while reminiscing about Tom, who died Tuesday from complications of a stroke. Veryzer, who lived in Islip, was 61.
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Veryzer played with the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians, Mets and Chicago Cubs. His biggest thrill came his first spring training with the Tigers, his brother recalled. "His first manager was Billy Martin. It was in Lakeland, Florida. Tom was out getting loose, Martin was sitting in the dugout and called Tom over. The next thing he knows he turns to the other side, he's sitting between Martin and Mickey Mantle."
Mantle had been Veryzer's longtime idol and the Yankees were his favorite team, even after he retired and went to work for the Town of Islip's Department of Public Works, his daughter, Jennie, said. "Every day, in the living room watching TV, me and him, my mom, my brother. We were die-hard Yankees fans.''
In his senior year at Islip High School in 1971, Veryzer hit .467 and had five home runs. The Tigers selected him 11th overall in the first round of the amateur draft and he eventually spent five years with the team before Alan Trammell came along to claim shortstop.
Tom Bianco of Sewanhaka High School was the Milwaukee Brewers' third overall pick the same year Veryzer was drafted. He recalled pinch-hitting against the Tigers in 1975 and how Veryzer positioned the Tigers outfield. "From playing against me in school, he told them I'm a line drive hitter to the gap," Bianco said. The Tigers adjusted and Bianco lined out. "At the end of the game I said, 'Thanks a lot, pal.' "
In 1973, Veryzer drove in the last run at the old Yankee Stadium before it was renovated, and in 1975, his two-out double in the ninth inning spoiled a no-hit bid by Ken Holtzman of the Oakland A's. Veryzer also was at shortstop for the Indians on May 15, 1981, when Len Barker pitched his perfect game.
For his big league career, Veryzer hit .241 in 996 games and had a .966 fielding percentage.
Jerry Veryzer thought back to the years when the youngest brother honed his skills on the fields of Long Island, saying, "He played all the time. God gave him a gift. He didn't abuse it or ignore it."
In addition to his daughter, Veryzer is survived by his wife, Vivian; sons Thomas Jr. and William; brothers John and James; and a sister, Pat Goedtel.
Visiting is Thursday from 2 to 4:30 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. at Overton Funeral Home, 172 Main St., Islip. A funeral Mass will be offered Friday at 9:45 a.m. at St. Mary Catholic Church in East Islip.