had access to big league baseball that most kids can only dream about. His father Vern
had a 16-year major league career as a star pitcher. Not surprisingly, Vance went into the family business and his in the midst of a 40-year (and still going) baseball career.
Vance has an 11-year career (1980-1991) playing in the majors for five different teams as an infielder. He hit a combined .256 with 71 home runs and 442 RBIs. His best season came in 1988 with the Chicago Cubs, as he was an All star, batting .293 with 11 home runs and 78 RBIs. Since his playing career ended he has worked extensively in coaching at various levels.
I recently had a chance to ask Vance some questions about his career. He provided some detailed and enthralling answers. Keep reading for more about his experiences in the game.
Who was your favorite
player (other than your dad) when you were growing up, and why?:
favorite player was Willie
for a couple of reasons. First, he took the time to play
pepper with this seven or eight year old kid down in the right field bullpen of
old Forbes Field, and actually was the one who asked me to play with him.
Secondly, he had tremendous power and on occasion would hit prodigious home
runs over the right field roof. I also loved to watch him throw because he had
a great arm from left field, where most people don’t know he played when he
first came up with the Pirates.
Can you describe your
draft experience with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1978- How did you find out you
had been selected?:
It was following my senior year at BYU and I thought I
had a very good season. I really thought I might go in the first 10 rounds or
so because I played very well in all the major tournaments we played where the
scouts were and also in the Western Athletic Conference Finals against Arizona
State, a major power in the NCAA. Scouts flocked to watch them play with the
likes of Bob Horner
, Bobby Pate, Chris Bando
etc. I had a very good series there and had high hopes for the draft.
The first day went by as I sat in my apartment expecting to
get a phone call yet it didn’t happen, then the second day passed and was
coming to a close and still no phone call. I was very discouraged and was
really banking on having the chance to play professional baseball, but it looked
like that wasn’t going to happen. After the second day, I didn’t even stay
around my apartment and it wasn’t until the 10 pm news broadcast that it
mentioned that I was drafted in the 39th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates. I was
very excited to at least have the chance to play professional baseball, but
didn’t receive a phone call until the following day when I received a call
telling me when to report to Pirate City in Bradenton, FL.
What was it like
growing up with a father who was a major league player?:
I was very proud
to be the son of a major league baseball player, but expectations were higher
for me and I think I put more pressure on myself to be better than others. I
was just a normal kid, though and made physical mistakes like everyone else.
Because I had the opportunity to see a lot of baseball games, I do believe I
knew better than most kids my age how to play the game, and my exposure of
being around the game, being able to shag and play catch with big leaguers
during batting practice was a definite advantage.
I felt that kind of pressure all the way through high school
and college and would often hear remarks from fans and opposing players that I
wasn’t that good and that my dad was the reason I was on my college team. Seems
crazy to think that people try to raise themselves by putting a young kid down
with their words. As a young kid, I was so proud to be able to walk out of the
clubhouse holding my dad’s enormous hand because he was so recognizable and by
association, I felt important too.
I had access to major leaguers which was pretty cool and
could come and go as I pleased at Forbes Field. One time, while I was shagging,
I got the idea that the new balls that the Pirates used for BP would make a
pretty good souvenir for some fans, so I kept some of them and lined four or five
of them up on the foul line right where it met the right field wall. Following
BP, I put them in my glove and went in near the clubhouse and as the players
walked by, I asked them to sign the balls. After the ball had a fair amount of
signatures, I took them up into the stands near the souvenir stand and undercut
the price of the balls they were selling. It didn’t take long to sell them and
I had nearly $15 in my pocket. I thought, “what a business!” I sold the balls
for about $3 a pop while the souvenir stand sold them for $3.50. I did this so
I could have some concession money during the games. My mother only gave me a
quarter each night because we went to a lot of the games and I’d have to save
for four nights if I was going to get the tasty pizza that was sold for $1. So
all of a sudden, I had plenty of money to have a pizza and popcorn. After a
couple nights of good business, my mom must have told my dad and he watched me
gather balls and start to get them signed when he came out of the clubhouse and
asked me if those balls belonged to me. Reluctantly, I said I didn’t buy them
but the Pirates had so many of them that it didn’t seem to matter much. He
asked me if that was the honest thing to do. That’s all he had to say and I was
out of business. But that’s the kind of man my dad is. Always honesty and
integrity above all else and I have remembered that lesson my entire life.
What do you remember
most about your major league debut?:
I will never forget when I was called
up. I was in my hotel room in morning of May 31, 1980 in Spokane, Washington
playing for the Portland Beavers on a short road trip. Our manager, Jim Mahoney
called me on the phone and asked if I was sitting down. I said, “Should I be?”
and he simply replied that the Pirates just called and wanted me in Pittsburgh
tonight so to get a cab, go to the ball park, collect my gear, fly back to
Portland, have my wife meet me there with more clothes and fly to Pittsburgh. I
was so excited, I could hardly believe that my dream of playing in the major
leagues for my childhood favorite team was about to come true. I called my wife
and she was so excited for me. I wasn’t making enough money to fly her back
with me so I made the trip solo.
My dad was coaching in Japan at the time so I didn’t know
how to get a hold of him and my mother right away. I’ll never forget landing in
Pittsburgh and taking another cab to the ball park and coming out of the Fort
Pitt tunnel with the lights of 3 Rivers Stadium illuminated right there in
front of me. I wasn’t activated until the following day, June 1
and when I got to the ballpark, I saw that I was in the lineup, playing second
base. I was a little scared about that because I had played second only a
couple times my senior year in college. I took a bunch of ground balls during
BP and turned double plays and tried to get as comfortable as possible in an
hour of work.
During the game I actually turned a double play and the
action shot was in the paper the next day with Hubie Brooks from ASU, now with
the Mets, sliding in and me jumping over him. I remember very vividly my knees
and legs actually shaking during my first at bat.
Since it was Cap Day, there were about 55,000 fans there
that day (paid attendance is listed at 49,626!) so I was plenty nervous. I was
facing a left hander Pete
and flew out to right field my first at bat. I got my first hit, a
line double down the right field line, off Tom Hausman
in I believe my fourth at bat. They stopped the game and threw my first hit
ball to the dugout. I was very proud. When I came off the field, they presented
me with the ball and my joy went to shock when I began to read what was written.
I’d never be able to show it to anyone, let alone my wife or parents. They had
written curse words all over it. After a few seconds of watching my response,
they busted up laughing and Willie Stargell, my childhood hero, who was playing
first base, presented me with my first hit ball. He has great penmanship and
wrote up the game situation and signed it for me. It is a real treasure for me.
Following the game, which we won, I was sitting in my locker
almost not believing I actually was in the major leagues. I was bent over
untying my spikes, when a pair of shoes walked up and stopped right in front of
me. I looked up and it was Harvey
, our pitching coach, but also a teammate of my dad’s back in the
60’s. He reached forward, and said, “Congratulations, have a beer.” I looked at
him and said, “Thanks Harvey, but you know I don’t drink.” He said, “I’m just
checkin’ son.” Having played a number of years with my dad, he knew that my dad
was a strong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and
didn’t drink alcohol and rightly assumed that I had the same beliefs.
You fared well in
your seven major league pitching appearances (3.38 ERA). What was in your
I was called on to pitch in those seven games, all blowouts,
to save our bullpen for the next night. Because I would often throw early and
extra BP hours before game time, our managers knew that I could throw strikes
and at that point in the game, that’s all they wanted so as not to prolong the
game. I took it very seriously though. I didn’t want to go out there and
embarrass myself by giving up a bunch of runs either.
The first time I pitched was against the San Diego Padres
and I faced Marvell
and the late great HOF’er Tony Gwynn
I got all three to ground out; three up, three down. I went to the dugout and
joked what’s so tough about that since the game was well out of hand. Many
years later, I read an article where Tony was asked if there was one at bat
that he would like to have back and he said that was the one. As far as what I
threw? I threw a four-seam fastball, a two-seamer that sank a little, a very
average slider, and rarely, a very weak change up. The key as I have always heard
was to throw strikes.
What is your favorite
moment from your baseball career?:
There are so many memorable moments that
it is too tough to single out just one. Team-wise, it was winning divisions in
1983 and 1989. It was also truly an honor to be named to the 1988 National
League All Star team along with five Chicago Cubs team mates.
Personally, I had a few game winning hits, a few two-home
run games, but probably the most memorable was a walk off grand slam while
playing with the Montreal Expos against my former team the Pirates. It remains
the only grand slam I ever hit, in little league all the way to the major
Who was the toughest,
nastiest pitcher you ever faced?:
The toughest pitchers varied from year to
year, though they were always tough each year, one year each would have
unhittable stuff. Dwight
and Nolan Ryan
were tough every year because of their overpowering fastballs and nasty
was tough with his pinpoint control and screwball, plus he threw
pretty hard too. Orel
was tough to face because of his smarts, a hard sinker and great
control, particularly in 1988.
with the Angels was always a challenge, but I think if I had to name one guy,
it would be David Cone
when he was with the Mets. He threw almost every pitch except his split finger
from all angles so you never knew what was coming and he threw hard as well.
He’s who I would call nasty. One year I believe I hit .300 off him. I was 3 for
10 with 3 singles and 7 strikeouts! He was very tough to hit.
If there is anything
you could go back and do differently about your baseball career, what would
I was way too serious! I would make a conscious effort to
outwardly show how much I enjoyed playing. Don’t get me wrong, I truly enjoyed
playing, but I didn’t smile enough, and I believe I kind of took it for granted
that it would always be there, kind of like raising kids. Before you know it
they are grown and gone and you say, “Where did the time go?” I was so
fortunate to do what I did for as long as I did. I also would interact more
with the fans. I always tried to be cordial but I think I could have done even
more. It is always nice to be kind.
What are you up to
since retiring as a player?:
I took a couple of years off to see if
something would grab me in life after baseball. I dabbled in coaching at a
local junior college, then when my oldest son was in high school he was going
into a terrible baseball program, so I volunteered to the principal to coach
the baseball team to try and give him and his friends a chance to have a better
experience and what do you know, we won the state championship the third year
there and took second and third two other years. From there, I was hired at BYU
and was the head coach for 13 years.
For the past six seasons, I have been a roving instructor in
the minor league system of the Chicago White Sox, one season over outfield and
base running, three seasons as the hitting coordinator and the last two as the
infield coordinator. They eliminated that position following this season so
currently I am actively looking for a professional level coaching job. I have
been so fortunate to have been in baseball either as a player or coach since I
signed in 1978, nearly 40 years. Where has the time gone?