When you're lamenting not winning a second World Series in a number of years, you've officially entered into first world problems territory.
Such was the situation a little more than a year ago when Kate Upton was bummed not to see husband Justin Verlander and his Houston Astros emerge victorious from their seven-game standoff with the Washington Nationals. Though she was able to reflect back on the season with a healthy dose of perspective.
"Cheers to a great season!" she wrote in a post last November, days after the Nats nabbed the title. "Even though the last series didn't go our way it was an incredible year and we still have lots to celebrate!"
No joke: On Nov. 4 the international supermodel and her two-time Cy Young Award-winning, MLB All-Star of a husband will celebrate the third anniversary of their Italian wedding and his World Series win. And then three days later it will be time to blow out the candles on little Genevieve Upton Verlander's second birthday cake.
A "really cute mixture of us both" (not that most people know, the protective mama tending to hide her face from her 6.2 million Instagram followers), Genevieve "changed our lives for the better," Upton wrote in a tribute last year. "I can't imagine my life without her sweet laughter and snuggles."
Or without having had the chance to witness her "best friend," her "Verlantine," transform into the type of snuggle-giving, diaper-changing, toss-'em-in-the-air-until-she-can't-stop-giggling father she always knew that he'd be.
"I hope you feel every day how grateful we are for you and for all you do," she wrote in a June Father's Day tribute to the 37-year-old. "Vivi is one lucky girl to have you!"
And this is coming from someone who knows a bit about being #blessed.
By the time the 28-year-old Florida native met the Virginia-bred athlete in 2012, they already had the makings of the award-collecting, philanthropy-minded power couple they would become.
Named Rookie of the Year in the 2011 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, Upton had long shed her catalog model roots, going viral for lip-synching to Cali Swag District's "Teach Me How to Dougie" at an L.A. Clippers game, filming the first of five movies she's shot so far and just generally putting in the work that would lead to to her future as a Vogue cover girl and all-around in-demand supermodel.
Selected second overall by the Detroit Tigers in the 2004 draft, Verlander had amassed quite a bit of hardware, having won the Pitching Triple Crown, the AL Cy Young Award, the AL Most Valuable Player Award and the Sporting News Player of the Year Award in 2011, plus collected two of his eventual three no-hitters.
So he was awash with confidence when he decided to shoot his shot on the set of the MLB 2K12 commercial they were filming, telling his friends he was going to get her number. The only snag: "I had my microphone on and didn't realize," he shared with Us Weekly in 2018. He was slightly mortified that she heard, but as he told the mag, "It worked."
It was on their first date—an Aerosmith concert followed by a stop at a Detroit bar—that they realized what it'd be like to explore a relationship as two known entities when a woman not-so-surreptitiously snapped their photo with her phone. Her amateur pictures were picked up online, with sources at the bar confirming they had been canoodling, a word rarely used when not describing how two famous people might act on a date.
Just like that, they were a couple.
Except that the twosome weren't really eager to define their status and wouldn't for another year or so, when a yacht outing with pals off the coast of Southern California finally made them decide to dive in. "It felt like the first time we really got to know the other person," Upton told Bleacher Report in 2018. "It felt...like finding a friend. A real friend."
Though they had kept things light for a long stretch—Upton even enjoying a brief romance with Dancing With the Stars pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy in 2013—she and Verlander's commitment turned serious right around the time that life did. A freak groin injury during a training session led to the discovery that the pitcher had an undiagnosed core muscle injury in his abs that would require hernia surgery. Upton was by his side in a Philadelphia hotel as he recovered from the January 2014 procedure.
She slipped into her pajamas for countless rounds of Yahtzee and other board games—each more competitive than the next, as you might imagine from two people who are used to winning—and when the athlete complained of constipation, a common result of the surgery, she Googled every potential remedy, scooping up bagfuls of pills and other holistic remedies at a nearby store. "His parents say that was the moment they knew they loved me," she shared with Bleacher Report.
Verlander had long since known how he felt, but Upton's unwavering support as he battled through the severe shoulder tendinitis that torpedoed his performance in the 2014 season only served to cement their partner status. As sportswriters tore him apart and fans booed him off the field, she reminded him of his worth.
"I don't like to talk to people about being hurt. As athletes, you're not supposed to. It's an excuse," he told Bleacher Report. "But she was someone I could talk to. I mean, basically a therapist. Somebody I could trust with...worries about my career. Worries about, Can I make it? Worries about what I'm going through to get back. And just the overall s--ttiness of it all."
Because Upton knew from s--tty situations. And she certainly wasn't about to be bothered by the worst types of fans, the ones who pointed at her and the happiness she gave Verlander as the reason for his decline. As someone in an industry with an equally brief window of success and even more of a trained focus on the body, she empathized with what he was dealing with. After all, she had been shrugging off trolls telling her she was fat since she posed in an impossibly tiny string bikini on the cover of the 2012 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue looking every bit the envy of women everywhere.
"She obviously had dealt with more than me in her life," Verlander told Bleacher Report. "I mean, being a woman? Being in that industry? Being that famous? That was a level I hadn't dealt with."
Her perspective, that knowing her own body and how she treated it helped her brush off such ignorance, helped him deal with the critiques. And though much of their time together had the standard trappings of any relationships—"We are foodies, so I think a typical date night would be going out to dinner and a movie," he shared with Sports Illustrated—she was also there to listen as he went through the worst of it.
"She was instrumental in me not...like, jumping off a bridge," he said. "I was depressed and kind of just upset at the world and trying to hide my own s--t." In the middle of all that, he was left exposed in the worst way when his phone was hacked and intimate photos they intended just for each other made their way around the Internet. An unspeakably horrifying experience, to be sure, but Upton took it in stride, calling it "an extremely difficult time that we were able to grow stronger from."
Quite simply, the self-assured, endlessly supportive model was exactly what the athlete needed, both during that trying time and for the rest of forever. As Verlander put it, "Who knows if I'm even here if it wasn't for her?"
So no doubt she's enjoyed watching the fruits of all his labors—even when they make life ever so inconvenient. The pair revealed their engagement at the start of the 2016 season, Upton accessorizing her sequin Topshop Met Gala look with her new Anita Ko ring.
Reflecting back on Verlander's "great, elaborate" preseason proposal during a Turks and Caicos sunset, she told Jimmy Fallon, "He gets down on one knee and he pops open the ring box, and in my mind, I was like, 'Don't look at the ring. He's gonna think you're materialistic. Just look in his eyes. Listen to what he's saying. Listen. You're not listening, Kate!' This is my internal dialogue. And then, finally, I was like, 'He stopped talking. Just say yes!' And I said yes and he stands up and he was like, 'Do you not like the ring? You didn't look at it once.'"
Which is cute, because there's not a lot to hate about an eight-carat round diamond.
Soon she got down to planning the multi-day Italian wedding they wanted, as Verlander put it, to "feel like a vacation with 100 of our closest friends and family and someone just happens to get married."
In the closing months of the 2017 season, he was traded from the Tigers, a team whose playoff hopes had all but withered, to the Astros, who were eyeing a deep post-season run and believed an all-star pitcher with World Series experience just might be the piece they needed. With the couple's Nov. 4 Tuscan vows already planned, they looked anxiously at the schedule ahead. Of course they hoped Verlander would still be playing come championship time, but it'd be ideal if he and his teammates could wrap things up and grab their rings before it was time for him to hop a flight to Europe and get another one.
"Literally when we're planning this thing, we're talking like, you know, best case scenario, we go to the World Series, there's really literally only one thing that could throw a huge wrench in all of our plans," Verlander shared during their joint appearance on The Tonight Show that November. "It's not the World Series. It's going to Game 7 of the World Series."
Named the starting pitcher for Game 6 that Halloween, he did his best to throw a perfect game. ("He kept talking about it," Upton recalled. "I was like...there's a whole team out there!") But despite his efforts and eight strikeouts, the Dodgers won, forcing a decisive game the following night.
As it worked out, Verlander and his bride celebrated a World Series win with his team as their guests were exploring the bucolic scenery at Tuscany's Rosewood Castiglion Del Bosco resort ("We had an event that night and everyone's texting us, like, 'Your wedding's so pretty. Wish you were here,'" Upton joked of mingling with their guests via FaceTime), then hopped a private flight from L.A. to Rome where they rushed for a final fitting on Upton's custom lace Valentino ballgown. Dress in hand, they rushed back to the airport to helicopter into the resort as their most treasured friends and family cheered their arrival.
"Makes it better that we weren't there for the start of it," Verlander said. "If we'd won Game 6, and everybody made it perfectly on time?...It's just like, 'Oh, everything's f--king perfect.'"
Maybe not perfect, but pretty damn close. The two made it in time to take place in the Uplander Olympics, "an entire afternoon dedicated to interactive games," Upton told Vogue of the ping-pong, cornhole, relay races and water balloon fight, then listened to a never-ending parade of toasts at their rehearsal dinner that night. The next day, Tuscany Flowers, under the direction of planner Lisa Vorce, transformed a hidden spot into a secret garden of sorts for the two to exchange their vows. "It was pretty storybook. The moment the gates opened and I saw her walking down the aisle, I lost it," Verlander recalled to People.
Then, under a greenhouse erected for the occasion and doused in flowers, candles and chandeliers, they watched a fireworks display and danced to the sounds of two bands Soul Brothers and The Kitts all night long.
Returning home, Verlander was still marveling at the week of events that had transpired.
"It's such a crazy dream-come-true moment and two of those happened within a span of a couple days," he told People. "Two life-changing events happened in the same week; it just doesn't happen like that too often. As my brother-in-law loves to point out at the wedding, it was pretty much the pinnacle of my life, and now from there, it's downhill! All in good jest, you know."
Because seven months later came the news that was to be the cherry on the top of their life sundae: Upton was expecting.
In the years since, Upton has dealt with the standard mom hardships—hormones; constant, exhausting pumping; having to field fairly obnoxious questions about her plans to "get her body back"—but life with her new pint-sized sidekick leaves the balance in her favor. In Verlander she found the guy she could be herself with, the person with whom she enjoys an open communication and constant laughter. And in Vivi they've got a third little buddy to round out their trio. Between her tiny baby laughs and constant smiles, she shared with People in May, "She melts my heart. I'm so obsessed with her."
So, yeah, as she shared on The Kelly Clarkson Show in 2019, "the hormones after pregnancy, for me, were crazier than when I was pregnant, and it took forever for them to calm down," and it's taken her two years of hard work with trainer Ben Bruno (co-creator of their Strong4Me program) to regain her ability to truly tear up a tough workout.
Still, things aren't too shabby in the Upton-Verlander home. "Married life's been great," Verlander gushed to People. "I married my best friend, and we do everything we can to spend as much time together as possible. Honestly, I couldn't be happier."
Well, I mean, a second World Series would be nice. But no need to get greedy. Not everything can be f--king perfect.
(Originally published Nov. 7, 2019 10:00 a.m. PT)