(This is Part Two of our interview with Vance Vizcaino, whose roller-coaster 2019 led him finally to a Rule 5 selection by the Chicago Cubs, and closer to the majors than ever.)
Vizcaino found himself facing the possibility of joining another team, though this time under different circumstances, as the Rule 5 Draft approached. A selection in the Rule 5 meant entirely different surroundings for a player who had just experienced Double-A for the first time.
On December 12th, in Round Three of the Triple-A Phase of the draft, the Chicago Cubs selected Vizcaino with the 38th pick.
“I’d spoken to (the Cubs) a little bit, right afterward,” he recalled. “We’ve had some conversations, but I’ve never been one to feel like I have to know this or that, particularly.”
“When they picked me, they called me after the draft and we had a nice conversation. They were saying specifically to me, “’Look, you really fill a role for our organization: someone who can hit from the left side, plays multiple positions, and can do damage on the bases. That what we’re looking for.’”
“It almost felt like a one-in-a-million chance, because you think of all the guys who get picked in the Rule 5 that are eligible, and you don’t know what other teams need.”
Vizcaino continued, “It was kind of a blindside, because I hadn’t spoken to the Cubs, or expected anyone from there to get in touch with me. But it was really nice at the end of the conversation we had, to have that feeling that they really wanted me and had a need for me. It felt good to be wanted, like that. Not that the Rockies or Royals didn’t want me..it was more like the Cubs were saying, “’We have something that we need you to take care of for us.’”
“So I’m super-excited to see what comes from this. Hopefully, I can start or get a chance to play regularly in the field, this year.”
Obviously, we all need outlets. Hobbies, interests, diversions. Any way we can decompress, away from the job. It’s no different for ball-players, though in such a high-pressure environment they are perhaps more vital than for those of us in the work-a-day world.
“I really enjoy spending time with my family. Being able to be with my family for Christmas was really special, for me. I enjoy playing video games, but never when my wife is home,” Vizcaino adds. “If she’s at work, I’ll play. Or if she’s asleep, I’ll talk to some of my friends online and play with them. But I don’t want that to take away from my time with my wife or family.
It’s easy to assume that someone who plays baseball for close to eight months each year (or more) would have little interest in watching it or reading about it, when they’re not on the job (ed. note: often true). Vizcaino can’t seem to get enough of it.
“I’ll say, also, that staying focused on baseball is not something that’s hard for me to do, because it’s always been fun,” he said. “I enjoy taking BP, I enjoy going to the cage, I enjoy playing catch. Lifting and working out has been something that’s really grown on me, so I’ve been doing that a lot more.”
“I like to try new stuff, too. A friend of mine is very into martial arts, and I did a Jujitsu class with him for a month, and we both enjoyed that. Or I’ll do a little cooking, or go out dancing, all kinds of stuff, really.”
“I’m willing to try almost anything, once.”
Reiterating his earlier point, Vizcaino comes across as being every bit as much a fan as he is a player.
“And I like watching baseball, too. The World Series is always good, and the playoffs last year were just incredible,” Vizcaino continued. “I’ll read about the players and learn about them as individuals and, if they’re into something I like, I’ll follow them.”
“I find people very interesting. It’s really interesting to see the life outside of the game, because you see the fancy cars and the big chains and the gold teeth, and you’re like, “’Is that who they really are?’”
Vizcaino’s opinions on “athletes as individuals” are well-considered, reflective of his long-held interest in knowing, essentially, what makes them tick. He has much to say, on the subject.
“For example, you hear about people like Magic Johnson, who said, “’Well, Magic is one person, and Erving is another.’” And that’s really interesting to me to see that he loves the game to the point where he’s developed a persona that he thought would be the best for him, on the court. But when he steps off the court, he’s a different person.”
“If you see the documentary of Magic and (Larry) Bird, and learn about the relationship they had, and how it was so different because Bird was so unlike ‘Magic’, but as Erving, they got along so well.”
“I think Christian Yelich did a piece, talking about how he has to prepare now after winning the MVP in 2018. He said that was his new standard. That’s what he has to keep up with, now.”
Vizcaino has learned from impressions he has gleaned while working with players who have been to ‘the next level’, so to speak. Playoff baseball is an entirely different animal, and Vizcaino is always willing to learn from anyone who has felt that postseason pressure.
“I’ve worked out with Tyler Clippard, and he said, “’It’s like every next season is the most important season of your life. You never get to say, ‘I’ve had a great season. I can rest, now.’ No, now I’ve got to do even better, next year.’”
“And sometimes, you hit the wall. You’re feeling like, “’How am I ever going to do this?’” But you realize that you just have to keep trying to do better.”
Entering the 2020 season virtually a stone’s throw from his major-league debut, Vizcaino knows the challenge ahead of him is his most difficult, to date. It’s an awful lot of pressure, but you’d never know it from talking to him. It’s the challenge that drives him, though he certainly doesn’t take it lightly.
“I’m just excited, you know? I’ve always had this dream, these expectations for myself. Nobody has ever had higher expectations for me than I have for myself. You dream about your debut, and what can happen.”
“I’m always thinking to myself, “’What’s something that nobody’s ever done, in their debut?’” I’ve always thought that I want to hit for the cycle, in my debut. I think it takes a lot of talent, and a little bit of luck, to do that. But it also takes effort not to let the moment overwhelm you.’”
As he looks back on 2019, Vizcaino is only even more fired up for what’s to come, this year. Whatever happens, it’s clear that the new Cubs outfielder will be taking it all, in stride.
“I keep telling everyone that I never, ever expected this much good to happen in one year: it started out so strangely in spring training, then I ended up without a team, then the Rockies call me, and I ended up going to a level I’d never played, before,” he concluded, with a smile. “Then I had success there, and I came home for the holidays and had a great time with my family, then I get picked by another organization to play at yet another level I’d never reached, before.”
“So 2019 is going to be tough to top, but I can’t wait to try and do better, you know?”