SARASOTA, FLA. – Some ballplayers scrawl a word or two inside of their baseball caps. Vance Worley is working on a graphic novel.
He’s written his initials, even though he prefers his nickname, “Vanimal.” He’s written a rude two-word command to himself, to make his adrenaline spike. “I flip the switch as soon as I take the rubber,” he said. “You have to have the mentality that ‘I’m better than you.’ ”
He’s stenciled in the initials of his aunt, who has been recovering from tumors in her stomach, and the name of his fiancée’s father, who has been in a coma for more than a year, and the name of his grandfather, who beat mouth and throat cancer after surviving diabetes and heart attacks. “I look at this every day,” he said, gazing at his writing. “It keeps me driving.”
The list of inspirational phrases and names is indelible. He’s learned that everything else in a baseball life can be erased with a phone call.
On Dec. 6, he was working out on the elliptical machine at the Phillies’ facility in Philadelphia, and planning to pick up an engagement ring, when he noticed a 215 area code popping up on his phone. The third time the number flashed, he finally answered. It was Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro, who told him he’d been traded. Worley’s reaction: “What? I’m rehabbing here for you, and you traded me? Uhhhhh. OK. I’m not going to fight you.”
He hung up and remembers “instant panic in the air. I need to get the hell out of all these leases and get the heck out of here.”
Like most people, Worley had built his life around his job. He had just moved his stuff from California to a rented home in Jersey, and had rented a condo in Clearwater, Fla., where the Phillies train. He had met a local girl and settled down.
One phone call left him paying on two leases and looking to buy a condo in Fort Myers, where the Twins train. “But I can’t get credit,” he said with a smile. “They won’t let me buy a condo. They say my contract isn’t guaranteed enough.”
If the Twins correctly evaluated Worley, he should be able to sign a lease for three or more years in Minneapolis. While the Twins had been looking for the right deal for center fielder Denard Span for some time, they shocked fans by trading Span’s heir apparent, Ben Revere, to Philadelphia for Worley and pitching prospect Trevor May.
May adds to the Twins’ growing array of talented arms in their farm system, and Worley, they hope, will help immediately improve one of baseball’s worst rotations.
Worley finished third in the National League rookie of the year voting in 2011. In 2012, he pitched despite a sore elbow and had bone spurs removed in September, ending his season.
He stayed in Philadelphia during the winter to rehabilitate his elbow, feeling he might as well be close to his home base. Now he doesn’t have one.
“I never thought about getting traded,” he said. “If that was the case, I would have just stayed in a hotel for three months up there. My fiancée had no idea this could happen.
“It’s definitely different, being with an athlete. I’ve had my girlfriends, going through baseball. It tears up relationships. It’s a business. We have to work. Baseball has to come first. Some females don’t get it. Even some family members don’t get it. We get here at noon and we leave at midnight. It’s not easy, and it’s not all glamour. You’ve got to work if you want to stay around. I’ve talked to numerous guys who have made it up here. It’s not exactly easy to get here, but it’s harder to stay.”
Worley hasn’t flashed his 2011 form yet this spring. Sunday, he allowed three earned runs in four innings, leaving his spring ERA at 6.00.
But he’s proven he can get out big-league hitters, and he’s blunt, affable, competitive and a bit of a character. Twins fans should enjoy having him around, even if he doesn’t plan to sign any leases longer than six months.