Catching On

Tyler McIntosh

For Vazquez, tools of ignorance are a joy to don


Credit: Adam Griffiths

They get hit with foul tips, crouch for nine innings at a time and face the challenge of calling a game and knowing how to handle each pitcher, all while guarding against stolen bases and wild pitches.

Plus there’s that little white ball flying at them at 80-plus mph while they’re suited up like medieval knights.

Think being a catcher for Kent State sounds fun? Will Vazquez does.

The senior captain didn’t realize how much so until he was forced to the outfield for the past three seasons while former Flash, and current Kansas City Royals prospect, Todd Balduf served as the starting catcher leaving Vazquez with few chances behind the plate.

“With catching, you’re involved in every pitch,” Vazquez said. “In the outfield you kind of have to look for ways to get involved in the game.

“I appreciate catching a lot more just because you are so much more involved in the game.”

On a cold and snowy day last weekend, it was obvious that runs would be at a premium, and Northern Illinois had already scored one with the speedy Jordin Hood still at first base.

Kent State’s defense had already committed one error and with Northern Illinois’s potent offense, it was clear that the game could get ugly quick.

Trying to put himself into scoring position, Hood got a good jump and took off for second early in the count. Vazquez proceeded to put the ball on a rope to shortstop Andrew Davis who applied the tag for the third out.

Inning over, crisis avoided – it’s what Will Vazquez does behind the plate.

“My strongest attribute,” Vazquez said, “is my throwing as a catcher.”

The Berea native has played many different roles for the Flashes (11-17, 3-3 MAC) in his four years; catcher, outfielder, the eager freshman just looking for time, and now the senior captain who is expected to help lead a team that has a history competing for Mid-American Conference championships.

However, Vazquez said that one of his most important roles is supporting the pitching staff, where having confidence is almost a pre-requisite for success, with his Tony Robbins-esque personality.

“You have to keep a dialogue going on with them throughout the game and let them know that you are behind them and supporting them,” Vazquez said. “If they need a little motivation, try and give it to them. If they need you to pick them up a little bit, try to give it to them.

“It helps off the field if you can have a good relationship with them too. But I think just that the on the field relationship is very important.”

And those on-field relationships are all unique.

“All the pitchers are different,” Vazquez said. “They have different mindsets and different ways they want to pitch.”

Hitting just .188 with five RBIs, Vazquez prides himself, and worries most about, his defense. Through 28 games, Vazquez is second in put outs with 170 and is maintaining a near perfect fielding percentage. As a team, Kent State’s 3.88 ERA is second best in the MAC.

“I’m a good blocker, but I can get better at receiving,” Vazquez said. “I need to work on staying relaxed when I’m receiving the ball. It’s something I worked on with coach (Scott) Stricklin a lot.”

Earlier in the season, Stricklin noted that while the offensive results are not yet there -Vazquez is just 3-for-27 in the last eight games – that progress is being made. For his career, Vazquez is a .252 hitter with 68 RBIs.

“His numbers don’t really reflect it, but he’s hit a lot of balls hard this year,” Stricklin said.

Catching is a tough and often thankless position – even Vazquez noted some of its drawbacks.

“There’s little things,” Vazquez said. “Your thumbs get beat up sometimes or you get hit by balls in the dirt. My legs get a little tired sometimes on Sunday after catching three games, but after Monday, take a day off, and it’s back at it.”

But for one player, at least there are far worse places to play.

“Being in the outfield just made me love catching that much more,” Vazquez said.

Contact baseball reporter Tyler McIntosh at [email protected].