Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Vance Wilson reflects on journey from Wahconah Park to the majors
Since Pittsfield made its return to organized baseball in 1985, former players, coaches and managers not only had Major League playing careers, but a number of them have gone on to manage in the minor leagues or coach in the bigs.
Some, like Greg Maddux, went on to a Hall of Fame career. Some, like Jason Isringhausen, spent 16 years in the majors — 12 of those seasons with either St. Louis or the Mets.
And there are some like Vance Wilson, who played in Pittsfield for the Mets and is now a major league coach.
The Kansas City Royals' bullpen coach is relishing his return to the majors.
"The stars just lined up," he told me, when Kansas City visited Fenway Park earlier in the month.
Wilson played for the 194 Pittsfield Mets. The manager was Howie Freiling, and Wilson was one of four Mets players off of that team to get to The Show. Jay Payton and pitcher Scott Sauerbeck had probably the best careers out of those four.
But Wilson hit an impressive .304 with two home runs and 20 runs batted in at Wahconah Park. Not bad for a player who was drafted in the 44th round of the 1994 First Year Player Draft.
"I remember everything. It's funny, but a lot of the guys we played with — Wicho Hernandez, Bo Haley, Ross Ferrier, Jay Payton, Scott Saubereck and Mark Guerra, all those names stick with you," said Wilson. "Wahconah Park was pretty special. I enjoyed it. It was the first time I was with a host family. That was pretty neat."
All right, he can recite his teammates name. But I have found that athletes — especially baseball players — tend to remember individual plays. In baseball, they remember details as minute as how a particular pitcher pitched in a particular at-bat.
"It's something about the game and the way you have to multitask through it," he said. "I remember more about the minor leagues and my friendships than I do about the majors. There's something about it."
After being released by Kansas City in 2010, Wilson began his climb toward the majors. That climb got him to Kansas City and the visitors' clubhouse at Fenway Park.
"Any time you're able to be a part of something that's the highest level in the world, it's very special," he said. "There's such a small few that get the opportunity. I'm very, very lucky and excited to be here."
Wilson played six years as a backup catcher to Hall of Famer Mike Piazza in New York and two more behind Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez in Detroit. You get to learn a lot, even if those members of the Hall don't get out of the way a lot.
There are a lot of players who retire and then go into coaching. Many never make it to the big leagues.
"I'm one of those guys, where you have a baseball resume and this game takes you where you're supposed to be," he said. "If that's developing guys in the minor leagues or in the big leagues trying to help guys win championships, it keeps you in the game."
Wilson spent the past several years managing the Northwest Arkansas Naturals of the Class AA Texas League. The team is located in Springdale, Ark. That also happens to be where Wilson lives in the off-season with his wife Bridget and daughter Peyton.
"It's unheard of," Wilson said, of his job the lat four years. "The stadium was a mile from my house. Even though we're gone a lot, we still work at the field a lot, to be able to wake up in your own bed, help your wife in the morning or see your daughter, at least for breakfast, you can't replace it."
Wilson may be a Kansas City Royal, but he's a Boston fan.
"My daughter's going to Boston College," Wilson said. "Fortunately, my wife and I will get to spend a lot more time here, because we love the city."
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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