Josh Vitters, The California Comeback Kid

Baseball has and always will be one of the toughest sports to play. This is not based on a personal bias, but on the factors that come into play in forming a  major league ball club.

Football and basketball players who are fortunate to get drafted by either the National Football League or National Basketball Association are automatically in the pros without having to play in any sort of minor league.  Alternately, those selected in the Major League Baseball draft will more often than not have to compete through each level of the “Minors”  ranging from Low-A/High-A/Double AA/Triple AAA.

The journey through the minor leagues for third baseman Josh Vitters of the Bridgeport Bluefish is similar to  that of many of his fellow players on the team.  What makes his story unique is his fight to once again prove himself and move from Independent Ball to the professional leagues, the level of play in which he has previous experience.

Vitters, from Anaheim, California, is entering his first season with the Bluefish.

The California native has been playing baseball as far back as he could remember.   “I’ve seen videos of myself when I was two and three years old,  picking things up and hitting them,” Vitters said.  As you might guess, his parents were quick to realize that he could apply his penchant for hitting on a baseball field, rather than confine his abilities solely to their backyard.

Watching Vitters skillfully cover third base today,  you might think he has been at home in that position throughout his amateur career.  Actually, Vitters initially played shortstop. “That’s where they put the most athletic kid at the time,” Vitters stated.   “As I got a little bit bigger and matured, that’s when I moved over to third base.”

When Vitters entered high school, he concentrated on baseball, rather than play any other sports.  “ I wish I could have done more things, too”, Vitters said enthusiastically.  “I kinda had all my eggs in one basket with the baseball thing and I haven’t looked back since.”

There were a number of high school memories for Vitters, but one stands out.   “(During) my sophomore year of high school, we won the CIF Championship, which is the southern section of California,” he said.  This was a pivotal moment for Vitters’ amateur career.  He not only faced the best talent from the district, but he also had the opportunity to expose his talents to scouts all across the west.  It helped that the Championship games were played at Angels Stadium where Vitters had a couple of hits sprinkled in. “(It) was my first time being on a big league field, and being able to play under the bright lights was awesome”, Vitters said. “Just the fact that it was our high school’s first championship made it a little more special.”

California had a surplus of talent during Vitters pre-professional days.  He found himself playing against future big leaguers such as Giancarlo, Freddie Freeman, Christian Colon, Matt Dominquez, and one of last year’s starters in the World Series, Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas. Vitters was very complimentary of each of these players.   “There was a lot of pro talent back then, and looking back, it was a great group to be a part of.”

As Vitters’ high school career came to a close and the Major League draft came along, Vitters was drafted in the first round, third overall to the Chicago Cubs.  That was in 2007. “It was a really great feeling,” Vitters recalled.   “At the same time, though,  it was overwhelming in the sense my lifestyle and life itself was going to change a lot.”

If things weren’t crazy enough after being the third overall pick, Vitters made his major league debut as a pinch hitter at Dodgers Stadium. The story behind what transpired the night before his first appearance in Los Angeles was a true last minute surprise  that might have very well affected his debut performance.

“(It was) the night before I was going to the big leagues after my minor league game, and it was 12 o clock midnight,” Vitters related.  “I had to pack up my whole life from Iowa, and by the time I got to Dodgers Stadium I was there with about thirty minutes of sleep.” With it being your major league debut and running on only a little sleep, you would think the night might be a little easier for this new major- leaguer.

“I got my first at-bat against (former) Dodgers reliever Brandon League, who was throwing some nasty two-seamers at  95-98 mph,” Vitters said glowingly.   “He was intiminating up there, but I felt good and that I belonged there.  It was one of those types of moments when it doesn’t matter if you slept or not, you have to step up because you’re there and you worked your whole life for this.”

Vitters proved himself to be an athlete who had graduated from the young boy throwing objects up in the air and hitting them all around the house to being the Gatorade Player of the Year in California, the eventual third overall pick in the major leagues, and now to playing Indy ball.  He’s made quite a move to play the sport he loves.

Vitters does not leave you with the impression that he regrets how his career has turned out thus far.  If anything, he is humbled and appreciative just to be able to put on a pro uniform once again.  It’s safe to say that this California kid just needs a shot.  With his history and willingness to make the best of his present and strive for more for the future, Vitters’ outlook is bright.  Like him, we would all like to claim that we are doing something we love every day.

 

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