JUPITER, Fla. – The e-mail arrived in a Perfect Game inbox on Oct. 9, two weeks before the start of the 2013 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla.:
“I have enjoyed reading your articles about all the great players over the past year or two. I like reading about the adversity that they go thru (sic) or how hard they work to develop their skills.”
The brief note went on to describe what the sender thought was PG’s penchant for writing stories about the sons of the former big-leaguers at the expense of prospects who don’t possess the “baseball gene” or aren’t privy to other inherent advantages that come with being the son of a former major league player:
“Every player doesn’t have the baseball bloodlines but works just as hard or even harder to sharpen their games … and we just keep working and hoping to get some exposure too. I will be in Jupiter hoping to show the scouts and GMs that even the little guys like me can play with the big boys and that we belong.”
The self-described “little guy” and e-mail sender was Cobie Vance, a 2015 second baseman and outfielder from Fayetteville, N.C., who was at the PG WWBA World Championship playing with the Mid-Atlantic PG Orange.
In truth, Vance has not exactly been toiling in total obscurity the last two seasons. The PG WWBA World Championship was his ninth PG event since June of 2012 – he played this summer with the Georgia Roadrunners and attended the Perfect Game Underclass All-American Games in San Diego – and is ranked 164th nationally (No. 7 in North Carolina) in the class of 2015.
Standing at 5-feet, 8-inches tall, Vance is relatively short in stature. But he wears 180 pounds on that 5-foot, 8-inch frame, has thrown 87 mph off the mound and 83 mph across the infield, and has shown a grit and determination that seldom go unnoticed.
His scouting report from the PG Underclass All-American Games in August noted that Vance “has surprising arm strength” and is a “gamer who plays with lots of energy and enjoyment.” He also plays with a great deal of pride and maybe even with a bit of chip on his shoulder that developed due his size – or lack thereof.
“I know that being a little guy I’ve got to play twice as hard as the 6-foot-5 (or) 6-foot-4 players,” Vance said on the evening of Oct. 27, right after Mid-Atlantic PG Orange had been eliminated from playoff consideration at the PG WWBA World.
“People might overlook me because of my size but I can play just as hard as those guys any way that I can,” he said. “Whether it’s running out a fly ball or picking someone up, if I can do that better than the next man then I’ll be all right.”
Vance didn’t do much to warrant attention at the PG WWBA World, picking up a single and a walk in nine plate appearances and committing an error in the field. The Orange finished 1-2-1 but the lone win came on the final day of pool-play against the Sandlot Scout Team, a 4-3 decision that knocked Sandlot out of the playoffs. In the end, Vance was not at all disappointed with the experience.
“Seeing it for the first time, it was more than I expected,” Vance said. “It actually made me play more determined because I knew that someone was watching every step. I’ve played in front of (scouts) before, but I’d say in my first at-bat I pressed extremely hard. It got easier in the next at-bat or after a ground ball (in the field); it just got easier.
“I learned I had to play my game – be a second baseman, move runners over, be a line-drive kind of guy. I can’t be that home run guy so I just have to play my game.”
Vance’s father, Randy Vance, accompanied his son to Jupiter from Fayetteville and also found the experience to be priceless.
“This has been pretty overwhelming,” Randy said. “As a parent I’d heard the rumors about Jupiter and it’s an awesome experience for me alone, just trying to stay out of the way of the golf carts and trying to look to see who’s who at this place. It’s just a phenomenal experience.
“I was really pleased to be able to bring (Cobie) here and get him involved in this as a junior knowing that he’ll be back next year, just to take some of the edge off and not be overwhelmed with the experience itself.”
Vance has gained a lot of valuable experience in the last 16 months since he first suited up for the Dirtbags at the 2012 PG WWBA 15u National Championship in Marietta, Ga., where he earned all-tournament recognition. Later that summer he performed at the Atlantic Coast Underclass Showcase in Winston-Salem, N.C., and was named to that event’s Top Prospect list.
He joined forces with a very strong Georgia Roadrunners 15u team this summer and was an all-tournament selection at both the 14u/15u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational and the PG WWBA 15u National Championship. He was 10-for-16 (.625) with two doubles, seven RBI and 11 runs at the PG-EC Invite and 12-for-28 (.429) with three doubles, seven RBI and nine runs at the PG WWBA 15u National.
Vance also played with the Roadrunners at the 15u PG BCS Finals and the PG WWBA 16u National Championship this past summer and continued to show improvement from event to event.
“I remember just back in my sophomore year, an 85 mile-an-hour fastball was just amazing to me; I could barely hit it but now it’s just second nature,” he said. “All the little things, like how quick the game is, the crossover step when stealing a base rather than opening up first – just the little things like that have taught me to be firm about my game. I am very happy with how my game has progressed.”
The progression of his game has run parallel with his rise to No. 164 in the class of 2015 national rankings. That lofty ranking put him in pretty good company on a Georgia Roadrunners team that included 2015 No. 2-ranked Jahmai Jones from Roswell, Ga.
The Mid-Atlantic PG Orange squad Vance was a member of in Jupiter had 10 2014s, 2015s and 2016s ranked in the top-500 of their respective classes, including 2016 right-hander/third baseman Mason Studstill from Titusville, Fla., who is No. 38 nationally.
“It can be important, but you can’t get a big head about it,” Vance said of his rise in the rankings. “You watch some guys and they know they’re a top-100 and they’ll play in a big game and expect to be great and perfect every time; they’ll press and stuff like that. I look at (the rankings) but I’m not really worried about it. It doesn’t matter where you’re at it’s just how your game is and who you play in front of.”
Randy Vance is a Sergeant Major in the United States Army and played baseball at Bethune-Cookman University for three years before entering the military. Randy worked closely with Cobie until his son was 10 or 11 years old and then decided to back away a little bit because he felt he was being too demanding.
“It’s been a lot of hard work … and I’ve pushed him and pushed him and pushed him over the years,” Randy said. “At times I thought I was doing too much but it’s prepared him for (being in) an atmosphere like this. He’s improved based on the talent pool; he drives hard to be the best at what he does. This type of atmosphere with all the great players that (PG) brings in here pushed him even more to do his best. That’s all me or any coach can ask of him, to give his best.
“I don’t expect him to be great every day, but he has flashes of being good, and that’s what we want to see, an improvement. This is a great experience that benefits his development.”
Cobie Vance, the 5-foot-8 second baseman playing with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, felt confident enough in his abilities to fire off an e-mail to a PG writer. He spoke with a quiet confidence, a trait undoubtedly passed down from his father, the Sergeant Major in the Army.
The young man is as dedicated and determined as they come and is also appreciative of the doors that have opened where he can “show the scouts and GMs that even the little guys like me can play with the big boys.”
“They tell me (the PG events are) going to be this, this and this and when I get there it is, but it’s so much more,” Vance concluded. “It’s very humbling to play in front of all these (scouts); most people don’t get the chance so I can’t complain about it at all. I like the experience, I really do.”