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Where Are They Now?: Vance Wilson

Vance Wilson (Photo by Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images)

Vance Wilson’s climb from 44th-round draft pick to playing parts of eight seasons in the major leagues seems like a dream-come-true tale. The problem with that storyline is that Wilson never even fathomed he would one day play in the big leagues.

“It was very surreal. I still don’t know if it has sunk in,” said the 46-year-old Wilson, who enters his second season as bullpen coach for the Royals.

Yet there was Wilson on April 24, 1999, playing for the Mets. By the end of the 2006 season, Wilson had served as the backup catcher to two Hall of Famers: Mike Piazza with the Mets and Ivan Rodriguez with the Tigers.

“If you do things for the right reason,” Wilson said in summarizing his playing career, “good things are going to happen to you.”

Coming out of Red Mountain High in Mesa, Ariz., not a single scout projected Wilson as a professional player. Not one college baseball team recruited him. When Zeke Zimmerman came to watch one of Wilson’s teammates, the Mesa (Ariz.) Community College assistant coach suggested the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Wilson become a walk-on at Mesa.

Wilson enrolled in school and came under Zimmerman’s daily catching tutelage. That meant making 60 throws a day to 60 feet without extra movement, or wrapping of his arm. If Wilson failed on any attempt, the two started again in an attempt to reach 60 consecutive good throws. Wilson sometimes made as many as 500 throws in a single session.

Zimmerman also taught Wilson the finer points of a catcher running a game.

After a redshirt season as a walk-on, Wilson started and gained all-conference honors in his second season. Then he was selected in the 44th round of the 1994 draft but elected to return to Mesa for another season. He again, was all-conference and began to attract the attention of scouts.

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Under the old draft-and-follow rules, the Mets retained the rights to Wilson until one week prior to the 1995 draft. Wilson had signed to play at Arkansas, yet was unaware of the leverage he had in negotiations with the Mets.

“I felt like it was time,” Wilson said of signing with the Mets for $100,000, which was the fourth-highest bonus for a draft-and-follow player that year.

Then Wilson had to prove himself at each level of the minor leagues before reaching New York for a single-game appearance in 1999. Defensive-minded catchers were valuable then as now, and Wilson was among the best. He threw out 40 percent of basestealers, which was 10 percent above the league average. He hit .250/.302/.377 in 403 career games.

Wilson has since coached and managed in the Royals’ minor league system before joining the big league club in 2018. His first stop was low Class A Kane County in 2011. He advanced to Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2014, and he and his wife, Bridget, still reside in Springdale, Ark., with their daughter.

Said Wilson, “I do what I do so players can experience what I was fortunate to experience.”

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