Squirrels' Vessella is a sharp southpaw on, off mound
In other ways, Vessella is very different from his Richmond Flying Squirrels teammates and other minor-leaguers. Vessella earned undergraduate and master's degrees, can discuss Chinese philosophy and hopes to be a college professor.
"He is quite the guy," said Paul Decker, the coordinator of the organizational leadership program at Woodbury University, from which Vessella received his master's degree. In Vessella vernacular, organizational leadership is "an MBA without numbers. It's how to be a boss without being a money guy."
Decker added he wouldn't be surprised if Vessella, 26, one day joined the faculty at a college such as Woodbury, a 1,600-student school in Burbank, Calif.
Vessella majored in kinesiology at California's Whittier College, where Chinese philosophy was among his courses. At Richard Nixon's alma mater, Vessella developed into a professional prospect as a Division III player.
The Houston Astros selected the 6-foot-6 southpaw in the 11th-round of the 2006 draft, then released him three years later following up-and-down performances and some arm issues. Vessella then spent two years pitching in independent leagues.
"I never thought of indy ball as the last road, where elephants go to die," he said. "I was not going to stop playing baseball until I physically couldn't do it."
San Francisco signed Vessella in January 2010 after he threw for one of the organization's scouts, and he has found a home in the Squirrels' bullpen this season (1-0, 2.66 ERA in 15 appearances/201/3 innings).
Squirrels pitching coach Ross Grimsley assesses Vessella as "loads better than last year, when he struggled throwing strikes. The harder he tried, the worse it got. He just expected bad things to happen. And they did."Working as a reliever this season rather than a starter helped inject Vessella with a dose of urgency. "It's 'get the out,' and there's nothing else that matters except getting outs," he said.
A fastball in the 90-93 mph range is among Vessella's many attributes. Woodbury University's Decker mentioned "persistence and perseverance" that allowed Vessella to work through an intense master's program while fulfilling baseball obligations and his offseason job as a high school substitute teacher.
"He was well aware that as much as he loves baseball, it's good to have something when baseball is no longer good to you," said Decker.
Two degrees make Vessella a highly educated Squirrel, though he believes that counts for zip on the mound. Grimsley, a pitching coach in the Giants' system for 14 years, agrees.
Among accomplished and unaccomplished pitchers, "I've seen guys who don't know to come out of the rain, and I've seen guys who could split an atom," Grimsley said. "Some people are way too smart, and they can't figure some simple things out. It's too simple for them. They don't believe it."
Article Written by: John O'Connor (Richmond Times-Dispatch)