May 8, 2011

On Baseball: Vazquez savors role with the club -- and bigger one at home

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - For a minor league player battling to make a team in spring training, the end of March can be stressful. Every at-bat, every pitch seems to count.

click image to enlarge

Will Vazquez, right, spends a moment with wife Hannah, and daughter Mia at spring training in Florida in March. He is in a second season as a backup catcher in Portland, where Hannah will celebrate her first Mother’s Day.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

In a spring training game six weeks ago, Will Vazquez moved to the on-deck circle. He looked serious until Vazquez glanced toward the lightly filled stands.

Vazquez's eyes lit up. He squatted, held out his hand and waved by fluttering his fingers. His eyes moved up, as his smile remained.

The wave was for Mia, the smile for Hannah.

Will Vazquez, who made the Portland Sea Dogs roster again out of spring training, may or may not be in the lineup today. Odds are against him playing because of his backup status.

But after the game, Vazquez's more important role will take over. And, with today being Mother's Day the Vazquez family will celebrate. Hopefully, by now, Vazquez has made plans for the day.

"I'm not sure yet," Vazquez said last week. Give him time. Will Vazquez is new at this -- this is Hannah's first Mother's Day.

Vazquez, 26, is more than a 30th-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2007. He holds a history degree from Kent State (graduating cum laude). He has been married to Hannah for three years and a father since that memorable day of July 18 of last year, when Vazquez left the team in New Britain to attend to Hannah and the birth of Mia.

"It's just awesome," he said.

Vazquez is enjoying life, as well as his career as a professional baseball player. But Vazquez is a realist. He is the Sea Dogs' third catcher -- behind prospects Tim Federowicz and Ryan Lavarnway -- and the backup to the backup infielder. In other words, he does not play much -- just five games through Saturday.

"It's tough sometimes, not getting the at-bats you would like to get, and not getting in there," Vazquez said. "At the same time, as long as you have a uniform on, you have an opportunity. I try to look at it that way. And I get to see a lot of good baseball through the year, and get paid for it."

Of course, the pay is not much. Players drafted in the 30th-round are lucky to get a four-figure bonus, if anything. And the salary for a second-year player in Double-A is $1,800 a month.

"But we've been blessed to have a host family," Vazquez said, "so that helps. It's good that my family can come with me."

The Sea Dogs front office works hard to get players housing and find host families for many of them. Will, Hannah and Mia stay with Paul and Nancy Chamberlain of South Portland, a couple that previously hosted Felix Doubront and his wife and children.

While Doubront reached the major leagues last year, Vazquez is the classic "grinder," surviving in the minors. He carries a career .202 average. After being promoted to Portland early last year, he batted .160 in 45 games.

The numbers, combined with thoughts of his family, often bring Vazquez to a crossroads.

"Every year I go through this thing -- is it time to give it up?" he said. "At the end of the year, I think there is no way I can keep doing this. I do need to provide for my family."

In the offseason, Vazquez takes on other jobs. He has given baseball lessons, been a substitute teacher and, for the past two years, worked in a butcher shop.

Then spring training beckons.

"Every year I come back," Vazquez said. "I feel like that's where God leads me. This is where I got to be. I go into spring training with open hands. Well, if I'm supposed to keep doing this, I'll make a team. If I don't, it's time to move on. So far, I've been on a team every year."

Vazquez serves a needed role on the Sea Dogs. With Federowicz and Lavarnway both in the lineup nearly every day (as catcher and designated hitter), Vazquez catches in the bullpen, while also serving as a emergency backup if there is an injury.

It is a job that tests his patience and perseverance. He loves baseball. But when he leaves the ballpark, his real treasures await.

"Coming home every day and seeing (Mia) smile. It makes the day just so much better," he said. "You're so much more aware of things going on in the world. Kind of what your responsibilities are. It helps you grow up a little bit."

Before Vazquez leaves for the ballpark, Hannah prepares a special lunch -- "kind of like our dinner together."

But no cooking today. Will Vazquez, father and husband, will take care of that.

 

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at:

kthomas@pressherald.com

 

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