Thursday, September 18, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

More on Vanimal

Had a lot of fun writing the story of Vance Worley and his dual existence (at least the way I see it). The more and more feedback I heard from fans in the last month triggered a big feature. The common refrain was: Who is this guy? Where did he come from? And why the hell does he act the way he does?

More on Vanimal

(Mark J. Terrill/AP)
(Mark J. Terrill/AP)

Had a lot of fun writing the story of Vance Worley and his dual existence (at least the way I see it). The more and more feedback I heard from fans in the last month triggered a big feature. The common refrain was: Who is this guy? Where did he come from? And why the hell does he act the way he does?

Sunday's lengthy feature attempted to answer those questions. But there was a lot I had to leave on the cutting board, and here is some of that to bide the time until the Phillies actually play baseball again. (There is no rain in the forecast for Cincinnati this evening.)

***

The hair was totally an accident, really.

Near the end of last season, Worley was a September call-up and one of the participants in the daily Frisbee games the pitchers would play in the afternoons before games for exercise. 

Worley had long, flowing hair then. And as he ran in the Florida heat one day, his glasses steamed up and his hair was a sticky mess. Brad Lidge yelled, "Hey, you need some product!" That was the last straw.

The rookie walked into the visiting clubhouse and to a back room where a barber always hold hours. 

"I don't know if I can do a mohawk," Worley told the barber. "I'm the new guy. I don't know what the rules are here."

He went with the fohawk, which left some hair on the sides. With the new cut, Worley strolled through the clubhouse and the first person he saw was J.C. Romero.

"What the hell are you doing?" Romero said. "You have to do the full mohawk. You have great hair for a mohawk! You're in the big leagues, you can do whatever you want now."

So mohawk it was. 

This is the part that scares Worley: His dad had a penchant for long and crazy hair, too. It was down to his shoulders at one point. Then, when he was 20, he started going bald. Soon enough, it was all gone.

The mohawk is a chance to savor creativity.

"I'm young and dumb," Worley said. "I can wear it now."

***

Chris Aquino has caught more Vance Worley pitches than anyone. That's what made a simple pregame long toss in San Francisco feel so odd.

"I was watching him throw with [Brian] Schneider and I felt kind of like, 'I wish I could be doing this,'" Aquino said. "It was weird watching him and not playing catch with him."

Until the Phillies' recent West Coast trip, Aquino hadn't watched Worley pitch live since college.

But during the winter, Worley continues his throwing program with Aquino, his former college catcher, in California. The two will meet at Long Beach State or at Cerritos High School, where Aquino now coaches. If Worley brings his longtime girlfriend on the trips, they will stay in a hotel. If not, Worley shacks with Aquino.

Shortly after Cliff Lee signed with the Phillies only to further obfuscate Worley's possible role, Aquino remembered the pitcher being quite disappointed. But that did not last long.

"It made him work harder," Aquino said. "He valued more of my feedback to him."

One day, Aquino told Worley to throw to another friend. Aquino had noticed some mechanical flaws in Worley's delivery, but he wasn't sure how to fix it from his squatting view. So, this time, he stood behind Worley as he threw.

That may have been a crucial day in the rise of Worley.

"He couldn't stay on top of the ball," Aquino said. "We had him land stiffer on his front leg so he had more of a catapult feeling. That's what is helping him keep the ball down while having more velocity this year than last."

Jimmy Rollins remarked earlier this season at how deceptive Worley's stuff is. It's not overpowering by any means, but judging by some of the swings (and non-swings), hitters are having trouble seeing the ball.

"He learned to cross his body," Aquino said. "I know the Phillies are trying to make him go in line instead of crossing his body. When he's more across his body, his control comes off sometimes, but it's really deceptive on hitters. Especially with that slider and cutter he's developing."

***

Trying to kill time in the dugout hours before a game earlier this season, Worley started talking about his glasses. He really liked the frames, but they were his only pair. And they had been his only pair since he signed his first professional contract.

Worley's agent was able to squeeze those frames out of an Oakley rep, but that was all.

The glasses complete Vanimal's look. Aquino said he stood in the stands at Dodger Stadium with a Worley jersey, a pair of his own (regular) glasses and people kept asking him, "Are you Vance's brother?"

When Worley was in college, he only wore the glasses for night games. During the day, he would sweat too much and there was no way to prevent them from fogging. Even at night this was a problem.

So whenever Worley reentered the dugout, he would hand the glasses to Shauna Horton, Long Beach State's assistant athletic trainer. The two did not say a word. Horton sprayed the glasses with an anti-fog spray and wiped them clean.

"It was like completing his sentence," Horton said.

But being in the majors hadn't afforded Worley the luxury of more than one pair. Yet. A few feet away at Citizens Bank Park, Cliff Lee stepped onto the field for batting practice and overheard Worley.

"I've got a deal with Oakley," Lee said. "They won't send you anything?"

Worley laughed.

Then, in August, when the Phillies were in Los Angeles, an Oakley employee visited the clubhouse. "Are you Vance Worley?" he asked. And there was a package of five new prescription glasses waiting for him.

"With success, things come to you," Worley said. "I've worked hard to get where I am."


Have a question? Send it to Matt Gelb's Mailbag.

Download our NEW iPhone/Android app for easy access to all of our Phillies coverage, plus app-exclusive videos and analysis. Get it here.

Matt Gelb Inquirer Staff Writer
About this blog

The place for up-to-the-minute Phillies coverage from The Inquirer beat writer Matt Gelb and columnist Bob Brookover.

Matt Gelb Inquirer Staff Writer
Bob Brookover Inquirer Columnist
Marc Narducci Inquirer Staff Writer
Latest Videos:
Also on Philly.com:
Stay Connected