Predicting which baseball players will succeed professionally can be a difficult thing. One only needs to look at former Kansas City Royals’ first baseman Mike Sweeney, who was not selected until the 10th round of the 1991 MLB Draft yet ended his career as a five-time All-Star.
Despite the challenges of scouting, Vinny Rottino enjoys his job with the Texas Rangers. The 38-year-old Racine, Wisconsin, native might have an easier time projecting the abilities of players because of his own extensive playing experiences and because of the specific branch of scouting he is in. As a professional scout, Rottino’s job is to determine which players who are already playing professionally would be able to move up in the Rangers’ organization. He is freed from many of the uncertainties regarding less-experienced high-school and college players who may not have ever played with wooden bats.
As a practicing Catholic, Rottino is also freed from many of the uncertainties of life, as he takes refuge in faith and family traditions. The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse graduate spoke in this interview of his professional and personal priorities and the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
What do you think of the Red Sox’s convincing 4-1 World Series victory over the Dodgers?
The Red Sox had great individual performers and really played like a team. That combination can be rare in baseball, since baseball, more than any other major team sport, is an individual game. It’s made up of separate hitters doing their thing without the direct help of teammates, so sometimes the team aspect is lost altogether in an effort for great individual stats. However, when you have the talent the Red Sox did and the genuine team effort they put forth, you got an unstoppable force.
Some thought of the Red Sox as a sure thing, but usually baseball is unpredictable. Does that unpredictability make it tough to be a scout?
Scouting can be tough, which is seen in the long list of first-round draft picks who never made it big and the list of lower picks who became All-Stars. In my own situation, I wasn’t drafted at all, so most people would have expected me to disappear fast, but I was able to play many years and even got to the Major League level.
The most important thing a scout can do is take his own experiences and use them to assess what a player is capable of down the road. Anyone can read a stat sheet, but those only tell you what has been done, not what could be done in the future in different surroundings. That’s a matter of how a player can adapt to new coaches and teammates farther away from home with larger crowds in the stands and more media exposure, etc.
Assessing players is fun to do. It’s the norm when you’re playing, but even more extensively as a catcher. You have to work with all your pitchers on how to go after opposing hitters. When that’s added to the knowledge of any other hitter on your own team regarding opposing pitchers, there’s a lot of thinking going on for catchers. My job today is, generally speaking, a continuation of what I had already been doing as a player.
This year the Rangers finished last in the AL West, despite having good offensive production. If we can get more consistent with pitching, we’ll get back to being successful like we had been in recent years.
In addition to the Dodgers, you also played for the Brewers. What are your top memories with them?
I signed with the Brewers as an undrafted free agent in 2003, played in their minor-league system and was called up to Milwaukee in September of 2006, 2007 and 2008. There were lots of good experiences, and I was happy throughout my time with the organization. I just felt so blessed to be paid to play baseball that, whatever came along, I was content to be a part of [it].
One day that does stand out among others, though, was in September of 2007. I hit the game-winning single against the Padres in the 11th inning, and that victory meant the Brewers would have their first winning season in 15 years or so.
Your overall attitude toward baseball reminds me of Blessed Solanus Casey, who also played catcher and who said that gratitude is the first sign of a rational creature.
Every boy grows up wanting to play a sport professionally, and since I was able to do it, I just kept thinking of how fortunate I was. I did have to work and work to make it happen, but there were so many things outside my control that also made it happen. I was blessed in so many ways.
Maybe thinking of how many blessings there are in life helps me to see how I have not lived up to them as well as I should. It seems like I keep needing to be pulled back to God, which is a reminder of the importance of diligence and perseverance. If we don’t keep going forward, we will go backward — especially in today’s culture that is filled with so many ugly things. Remaining neutral is not an option, because it doesn’t take a proactively bad decision to set us in reverse; all that’s needed is to do nothing in place of doing something good.
That also reminds me of Blessed Solanus, who said we are in constant need of conversion, a process that would end only in heaven. He also asked others to pray for his conversion.
That makes me think of how I should start praying the Rosary more regularly. I used to pray it every day, and there’s no better time to start up again than October, the month of the Rosary. Probably listening to the Vin Scully-narrated Rosary album from Catholic Athletes for Christ would help.
Are you going to the Catholic Athletes for Christ retreat this year?
I have been to it before, but won’t be going this year. I spend a ton of time working during the season so in the offseason I like to be around my family as much as possible. The ironic part about that, though, is that it seems like I work even more around the house than I do in scouting. That’s what happens with kids; there’s always something happening, and that’s especially true with a 2-year-old and 9-month old.
That probably makes you grateful for what your father did for you.
Even before kids, I appreciated what my father did for me, but, yes, having kids makes it all the more obvious. There are thousands of little things to do for kids, but the thing that means the most for me is my dad, Antonio, being a practicing Catholic. He was always so reverent at Mass, which made it apparent that he knew he was not engaged in a casual matter, but was in the presence of God. My kids aren’t able to pick up on things like that yet, but hopefully I can lay the foundation.
Even though I have experienced peaks and valleys in my life, one thing that always stuck with me was going to Mass on Sunday. No matter what else was going on — and that often meant baseball games — I was still putting myself in the presence of God for public worship. My dad’s example has really inspired me to always remain close to Jesus Christ and my Catholic faith.
Were you named after St. Vincent de Paul or one of the other saints with that name?
Curiously, I was named, not directly after a saint, but after the hospital in New York City with the name of St. Vincent. My grandfather worked there as an oncologist, specializing in Hodgkin’s disease research. He was even given grants by Mickey Mantle, who had family members who died of Hodgkin’s. That hospital was named after St. Vincent de Paul, so I was named after him indirectly, but my parents wanted to connect me with my grandfather’s workplace. Whether direct or indirect, St. Vincent de Paul is being honored.
Fellow scout and former catcher Cody Clark caught up this summer with Father Michael Cunningham, also a former catcher, at the National Shrine of St. Alphonsus Liguori. Sounds like a destination you would want to get to as well, especially considering your Italian heritage.
It’s a small world. I played against Cody and have seen him a couple of times in our work as scouts. I didn’t know he was Catholic, but that intrigues me about going to the shrine. Maybe we’ll even end up there next season at the same time.
It would be great to learn more about St. Alphonsus, too. He was a strong proponent of prayer and Marian devotion, so that reminds me all the more of praying the Rosary daily. No better time to start than now.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.
His book, Fit for Heaven (Dynamic Catholic, 2015), contains numerous Catholic sports
interviews, most of which have appeared in the Register.