Aaron Vaughn may be a professional baseball player, but his life is a little less than glamorous. The former Pusch Ridge hurler is currently playing in the Gulf Coast League, one of the lowest levels of minor league baseball.
Vaughn began his minor league baseball adventure in June. The recent graduate of Northwest Nazarene University, Vaughn went undrafted in the MLB amateur draft but was signed to a free agent deal by the Houston Astros organization and was sent to the Gulf Coast League Astros, a rookie league affiliate of the Astros. Other than playing independent league baseball, Vaughn is about as far as one can get from the majors, but he has his shot.
“It’s been very fun and exciting and I’ve already learned a lot from the experience,” said Vaughn.
There has been a big adjustment for Vaughn, who was a standout for the Northwest Nazarene, an NCAA Division II squad. Vaughn went 9-4 as a senior and earned first team All-Great Northwest Athletic Conference. Maybe more important in the eyes of the Astros is that he has had his fastball clocked at over 90 miles an hour.
Moving to the minors, every player has had a decorated career.
“The biggest adjustment is of course that everyone is more skilled here and everyone in the lineup can hit well,” Vaughn explained. “In a college lineup there was always a few hitters that you really had to watch out for and be prepared for, but here everyone can hit well so you have to constantly be prepared physically and mentally.”
While Division II baseball is not the most glamorous lifestyle, it were still a more comfortable way to play than the Gulf Coast Lead.
“Living arrangements and overall lifestyle are very different then I am used to and can be difficult sometimes, but I just realize how blessed I am to be here that those things don’t really affect me,” Vaughn said.
Every game is a bus ride of sorts, but Vaughn says things are not that bad.
“We bus to the field every morning and to the games,” said Vaughn. “Since the GCL is all in Florida we bus everywhere but the drives aren’t too far and go quickly, partially since we have cable on the bus.”
The GCL is a fairly unique league. Most of the games are played in the heat and humidity of the Florida afternoon and although the league is filled with the top draft picks and rookie free agents, no admission is charged and crowds are sparse.
All the teams in the GCL play at their parent club’s spring training facilities, meaning teams are quite spread out from locations like Jupiter, Tampa, Lakeland, Clearwater, Ft. Meyers and Bradenton. The Astros are located in Kissimmee.
Vaughn was prepared to continue his baseball career one way or another. He was all set to play independent baseball but he got the offer from the Astros.
“The call couldn’t have come at a more perfect time as I was with my family, girlfriend, and a few close friends,” Vaughn said. “I was overjoyed and couldn’t have been happier.”
In fact, Aaron had stayed in Idaho after graduation to prepare for the opportunity to play pro ball, but was in Tucson for his sister’s wedding. The whole family was able to enjoy the good news. Vaughn arrived in Tucson on a Tuesday and good news came soon after.
“All our family and a lot of friends were here for the wedding and he got the call on Thursday at home in front of many here,” said his father Jim Vaughn. “We were jumping and cheering for joy.”
Obviously any father would be thrilled at his son getting this opportunity, but it is extra special for Jim because he coached Aaron for years and the two spent many hours practicing and working on baseball.
“Most days for years I would catch him or toss balls for him to hit until he left for college,” said Jim, who also helped out with field prep or even hauling players to games. “I would catch him practicing pitching hundreds of times, hitting in cages hundreds of times he even had his own batting cage.”
Ironically enough, Aaron was not allowed to play baseball until he was 10. He expressed a desire much earlier but Jim wanted to make sure he did not start too young. The delay did not seem to hurt any, in fact it may have made him even hungrier to play and get good.
“It worked very well because his first year of playing league ball at age 10 he wanted it so bad that he excelled very fast and passed up kids that had already played a few years,” said the elder Vaughn.
Signing one’s first professional contract is always a special occasion, but Vaughn made it extra memorable by using a pen that he and his uncle made in his uncle’s woodshop
Vaughn is working out of the bull pen for the GCL Astros, something he did as a freshman and sophomore in college. He’s faired fairly well through his first few games, allowing runs in just two of his first six outings and converting two save opportunities.
He had a stellar career at Pusch Ridge, helping guide them to a state title his junior season and an undefeated regular season in 2010, his senior year. He was 6-1 that championship season. His coach at Pusch Ridge was a former major leaguer and he was able to draw quite a bit from him.
I learned so much from my coach Doug Jones that year, he had plenty if knowledge to share as he played many years in the MLB,” explained Vaughn.
Like every minor leaguer, Vaughn dreams of “The Show.” To get there he will need to continue to ride buses, learn from players and coaches and stay “mentally tough.”