PORT RICHEY — Whether at the plate or behind it, patience has paid off for Mike Vavasis and his baseball career.
The catcher for Pasco-Hernando Community College was a redshirt freshman last year, catching pitchers at practice and watching games from the sidelines. What felt like the torture of waiting turned out to be educational, as Vavasis studied the difference between high school and college baseball.
"You see a lot of different pitches than you did in high school," Vavasis said. "I'd never seen a changeup that broke at your feet. Coming into this year it was like a heads-up for me. I hate watching games, so last year wasn't easy, but it gave me a chance to view the games in a different way."
The frustration of not being able to play was felt around the team, not just for Vavasis. Teammate Matt Hart has been friends with Vavasis since their days as teammates on a Legion League team during high school. The two have now formed the Conquistadors' one-two punch of leading hitters, but next year Hart will move on to a university, leaving Vavasis behind to carry the load.
"I felt like we were missing out a little bit last year because I knew from the past that he was a hard worker and good player," Hart said. "We could have used his bat but since we had some other catchers last year maybe it worked out better. We've been competing all year, going back and forth. He never likes to look at his stats but I always like to mention it."
The duo's stats are impressive. Hart leads the team with a .406 batting average and 42 RBI. Vavasis is just behind at .394 and 28 RBI.
Coach Steve Winterling was pleased that Vavasis opted for redshirting last season. Concerned with his maturity and knowing that Vavasis would see very little playing time behind two other catchers, the year off gave him a chance to grow as a person and player.
"This year he has matured and his hunger to play has been impressive," Winterling said. "I think he just needed to be ready for this level of baseball, and now he has been one of our most consistent players, getting on base seemingly every at-bat. I've been pretty surprised with how well he's done this year, but I think it comes down to how hard he works. He gets here before everybody. He's almost religious about working on his game."
This season, injury took care of his competition at catcher, leaving Vavasis to play virtually every game. He has applied what he learned in his redshirt season, as well as some new techniques he has learned this year.
"I never got to call the pitches before, but here I can," Vavasis said. "This year has made me mature as a catcher because I've learned strategy from playing so much. You learn what the opponent is going to swing at and you can devise different ways to get out of innings. It's been really interesting."
The Conquistadors finished the season with a record of 21-17, winning 18 of their final 24 games. They now head to North Carolina to play in a double-elimination regional tournament, where a good showing will qualify them for the National Junior College Athletic Association's World Series in Oklahoma.
"We'll bring the bats; it's the rest of it that has to come together," Winterling said. "Defensively, we've been erratic most of the season and our pitching has to lead the way. We've ironed out the issues with our bats so we have a lot of confidence in that area. It'll be interesting because we've never seen any of the teams in this tournament, but they've never seen us either, so there's no advantage."