A conversation with Naturals manager Vance Wilson
In November, it was announced that Vance Wilson had been hired as the new manager for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals in Springdale. The move is literally a “coming home” in every way that counts. Wilson, 40, is a Springdale resident who spent eight seasons playing Major League ball for the New York Mets (1999-2004) and the Detroit Tigers (2005, 2006). Then, after undergoing his second "Tommy John" Surgery in 2009, Wilson signed with the Royals, playing fifty-nine games with the Naturals in 2009 before retiring in 2010. The end of his 15-year professional playing career was bittersweet, but he couldn’t be happier with the outcome. I recently caught up with Vance to ask him a few questions about life, childhood, family, and sports.
Where did you grow up, and at what age did you know you wanted to play professional baseball?
I grew up in East Mesa AZ, just east of Phoenix, in a lower income neighborhood surrounded by miles of open desert. I played little league baseball, and like every other kid wanted to be a pro baseball player. I didn’t really believe it would happen until I was drafted by the New York Mets in 1993 out of college. I played professionally for 16 1/2 years with the New York Mets, Detroit Tigers, and Kansas City Royals. I was a catcher for my entire professional career and actually caught from age 5 till I retired at age 37.
Of all the highlights in your career, what were the most memorable moments?
The 2006 season for the Tigers was definitely one of my favorite highlights. I was a big contributor for a World Series team and the fact that so many family and friends shared my experience with me was special. Small milestones like my first hit and homerun will also always be very special. Being able to travel and getting to know so many people around the country has also been an amazing highlight.
After two years managing the Blue Rocks (in Wilmington, Delaware) you were just named manager for the Naturals. Did you always plan to manage after your career or did the process take you by surprise?
For the first 10 years of my career I said I would never coach pro baseball. I always felt there were politics in the game that I didn’t want to deal with. After I was in the Major leagues I realized I had a gift to lead young men and help them reach their potential not only in baseball but in life. That’s when I realized it would be special to offer that to other players when I was done playing—help them experience what I was fortunate to have experienced.
And I’m sure it’s nice to be able to manage in your hometown.
Of all the years that I played pro baseball I can only remember one or two coaches having an opportunity like I have been given. I am very lucky to have two girls—Bridget and Peyton—that have sacrificed so I could travel and coach. With this opportunity, I feel like I have paid them back at least a little.
Where do you hope the next five years takes you?
The funny thing about pro baseball is you never know where it will take you. Personal goals are that I get to the Majors to coach or manage. In this game you have to keep showing your value to the organization. If you are able to do that you will usually accomplish what you set out to do.
What advice would you give an up-and-comer hoping to follow in your footsteps?
The first thing I would say is that all successful people- no matter the career—have certain ingredients that are the same. Second, I would tell them to research successful people and pattern their leadership after the good ones. There is always a process to success. The ones that fail depend on the process to take them to success with very little effort. Make sure you work hard to become part of the process, and don’t leave your success up to someone else.
Good advice for all of us...advice that he is currently passing on to his 13-year-old daughter, Peyton Blaise. Vance lives with his wife and daughter in Springdale, where they’ve lived for the past nineteen years.