From an early age there was no indication that Jace Vines was going to be a professional baseball player.
Growing up in Prosper, Texas, Jace Vines didn’t choose baseball because it was his favorite sport. As his father, John Vines, likes to say, he grew into it.
“He was a really late developer and didn’t start growing again until he was a junior,” John Vines said. “By then he stopped playing football and basketball, but you can still play baseball no matter what size you are.”
Standing at 5-foot-7 as a sophomore at Prosper High School, Jace Vines rarely saw any action as a pitcher. By his senior year, despite a growth spurt that had him at 6-foot-1, he split time between catcher and second base. An injury to Prosper’s No. 2 pitcher late in the season gave Jace Vines the opportunity to take the mound.
“We were trying to find a place for him because he was a good player, but he wasn’t very strong,” said Jace Vines’ high school coach Rick Carpenter. “Pitching was his best thing for us here because he could hit his spots. When you don’t throw 90 mph you have to be able to hit spots, and he did that.”
It wasn’t much, but Jace Vines pitched six games and 34 innings his senior year. It’s not the type of resume that garners college offers. So, his father gave him an ultimatum — play junior college ball or hang up your glove.
Not wanting to be the only one of his friends still living at home, Jace Vines walked on at Weatherford Junior College, just west of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Still, baseball didn’t seem to be working out there either.
Instead of being in the dugout supporting his team, Jace Vines was in the press box as the PA announcer for games. Head coach Jeff Lightfoot told Jace Vines and the rest of the redshirt players that they needed one of them to run the scoreboard, and someone to call the game.
No one jumped at the chance to do either. Lightfoot then said they would be paid. That was the motivation Jace Vines needed.
“I’m going to have to be at these games no matter what, I might as well be making some money doing it,” he said.
Although it allowed Jace Vines a year to work on pitching mechanics and to get bigger, there was a moment when he wanted to quit baseball.
Jace Vines thought maybe if he threw as hard as he could he’d seriously injure his arm and he could move on with his life. Or, he’d become a better pitcher and continue to play. After throwing the ball as hard as he could several times without injury, Jace Vines took that as a sign that he was meant to continue playing.
He then transferred to Tyler Junior College, but this time he wasn’t posted in the press box during games.
Jace Vines pitched his way to a 10-1 record with a 1.77 ERA, earning NJCAA Division III Pitcher of the Year honors.
However, success didn’t come until Jace Vines’ pitching coach, Chad Sherman, had him drop his arm angle and introduce him to the sinker.
That’s when everything began to click.
Jace Vines’ only goal with baseball was to play for a Division I program, and after his season at Tyler JC, that goal was within reach. He became, as his dad calls it, “the flavor of the month” for D-I programs.
Ultimately Jace Vines chose Texas A&M, which coincidentally happens to be his parents’ alma mater.
“To be on the mound at Blue Bell Park at College Station — that first Saturday that he came rumbling out of the bullpen and they called his name, it was surreal,” John Vines said.
Jace Vines’ career didn’t end there, though. A year later in 2016 — now at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds — Jace Vines was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the fourth round. No one saw it coming, except perhaps Jace Vines’ high school coach.
“If I knew he was going to turn into the mountain of a man that he is, then it wouldn’t surprise me at all that he’s had this success,” Carpenter said. “It’s not a surprise given the fact that his body finally matured because he was always a hard-working kid.”
His rookie season in minor league ball was tough, posting a 6.59 ERA and a 1-6 record, but like majority of Jace Vines’ journey, he began to develop later. In Jace Vines’ second year he finished the season in Triple A ball, cutting his ERA to 3.45 and finishing with a 12-8 record.
For a guy who, in 2013, was thinking about quitting baseball, Jace Vines is just enjoying the unexpected journey.
“I’m just trying to be like a sponge and treat every day to learn something new,” Jace Vines said. “Every time I come out here and pitch, it just makes me believe more that I can be a major league pitcher.”
Jasmyn Wimbish is a graduate student at the University of Kansas working towards a master’s degree in Journalism. This article was originally produced as part of a class at the University of Kansas dedicated to covering the Kansas City Royals spring training.