When the 2008 Dirtbag reliever was called up to join the Padres in MLB in May, Nick Vincent became the 13th former Long Beach State ballplayer in the major leagues this season and the 42nd
in school history. Since the right-handed hurler was summoned, CSULB is once again on top for the most major leaguers from any college–an honor the team has held in 2010 and 2011.Getting to the big leagues for this determined 26-year-old resident of Ramona, a secluded town of 40,000 inhabitants in the foothills northeast of San Diego was a grind. Inspired by his father–who along with his brother–played catch with him at age five and later instilled a strong work ethic as a youth helping with the family business, Nick became Valley League Pitcher of the Year as a senior at Ramona High School and led the Bulldogs to the CIF San Diego Section Division III semi-finals. Vincent was granted a medical redshirt because of a strained right elbow in the first season of his long three-year commute to Palomar College in San Marcos. He learned the fine intricacies of the game and developed his craft before his journey north to Cal State Long Beach–where he transformed into the Dirtbag Stopper under pitching coach Troy Buckley.
With a perfect 4-0 record and a 1.75 ERA over 30.3 innings and 26 appearances in relief, Vincent was instrumental in Long Beach State Dirtbag’s 2008 Big West Championship. The San Diego Padres took notice and selected Nick Vincent in the 18th-round of the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft. Vincent spent the entire 2009 and 2010 seasons with Padres’ Single-A Advanced affiliate Lake Elsinore, where his 3.08 ERA in 2009 was nearly cut in half to a 1.59 ERA in 2010. The six footer was promoted in 2011 to Double-A San Antonio, where he appeared in a Missions’ club record 66 games and struck out 89 batters in 79.3 innings during the regular season. He was named to the Texas League All-Star team and led San Antonio to a Texas League Championship. Vincent was stellar in the 2011 playoffs, when he pitched six scoreless innings without giving up a walk and striking out 11. The California native made a strong case to make the Padres 2012 opening day roster after three spring training relief appearances, during which he didn’t allow a hit in three innings and struck out three. Instead, an ankle sprain kept him in Arizona for rehab and extended spring training. We spoke with Nick Vincent shortly after his May 18th call-up to MLB and his reassignment from Triple-A Tucson Padres to Double-A San Antonio, where he decided to abandon throwing out of the windup because it put too much pressure on his ankle. The results were remarkable as he went 1-0 with a 1.86 ERA in 9.6 innings of relief, ringing up 15 without issuing a walk. Since being called up
a fourth-time to the Padres this year, Vincent has been impressive in the bullpen by providing middle relief with a 2-0 record and a 1.83 ERA.
Padres manager Bud Black said of the reliever. “We like Nick’s stuff and he throws strikes. Nick knows his game. He throws a cutter and fastball to both sides of the plate. His game works. He’s just a little bit more consistent than some of the other guys that have come up. We like how he’s throwing the ball, we like his stuff.
He does a lot of things well.” A cordial and genuinely nice guy, Nick Vincent also has the positive disposition and outlook to make the new ownership of the San Diego Padres proud to see a local boy realize his dream in MLB.
Roberto: How are you feeling after being called up to the major leagues as a Padre?
Nick Vincent: I feel pretty good. It was an unreal experience. I mean the first day I was just in awe. How it happened and all that. And then the second day I actually felt it like ’Wow, you’re in the big leagues. This is what it feels like’ kind of thing. When they told me that I was going back down, I wasn’t too surprised. But that feeling you get in your body from going from Tucson (AAA) to the big leagues is an unreal feeling. I don’t think I have ever felt that feeling before in my life.
Roberto: How important was your college baseball experience in becoming a pro leaguer?
Nick Vincent: I played down at Palomar Junior College down in San Marcos. Played there for three years. I got hurt my first year, and there is where I learned most of my baseball. From high school to that, I learned probably ten times from what I knew about baseball from high school. It was unreal, and then I just carried that on to Long Beach with my numbers and stuff. And just started pitching well out of the bullpen there. The main reason I went to Long Beach is because the pitching coach there: Troy Buckley. I mean he had the best ERA in 2004 or 2005 with (Jered) Weaver, (Neil) Jamison, (Abe) Alvarez…they had all these pitchers. And I talked with one of them, Neil Jameson, because he went to Ramona. He was like: ‘If you want to learn how to pitch, this guy knows his stuff.’ That was the main reason
I went there because I didn’t know if they were going to be a good team or not. I didn’t check into that, but I thought if I wanted to continue pitching then I’m going to go with the best pitching coach.
Roberto: How good can it get to be pitching professionally where you grew up as a kid?
Nick Vincent: I mean San Diego is all the way around probably the best city in California…just because of the weather. There is so much stuff to do. You go two hours, and you’re in the snow. You’re right by the beach. You can go fishing. You can go to the lakes. There is just so much stuff you can do around downtown. I mean you can’t really do that in LA.
Roberto: How did your family react seeing you in a Padres uniform at PETCO on May 18th?
Nick Vincent: My dad had bought like 80 tickets. I think he only gave out 50. But he ended up bringing the other ones back, and they reimbursed him for those tickets he didn’t use–so that was cool of the Padres. When I warmed up in the seventh inning, I got up to throw and the whole section right by the bullpen–that’s where he had bought all the tickets–erupted. Friends, family, from high school, my brother’s friends, other friends..it was pretty cool!
Roberto: How have you coped with the pressures of staying up in the big leagues?
Nick Vincent: I went up there and learned some stuff. I mean when you go up there when the game starts, it’s all business. There’s not too much messing around..none of that! So that was one of the biggest things I felt. Everyone is pretty serious..like every pitch. You’re watching every pitch. Nervousness…no matter what…that first inning you throw–you’re always going to be nervous no matter what. And as soon as you get through all of that…then that’s when everything will start cooling down. I mean I’m excited. I’ve got to get the ball down, keep pitching better. Be smart of what I ‘m throwing and get the ball down. I was up in Tucson (AAA), and I was leaving the ball up a lot so they told me I was coming down here (AA). You don’t pitch (well) there, you get moved down. That’s just how baseball is.
Roberto: Is your cutter your best pitch?
Nick Vincent: Yeah, I can throw my cutter to both sides of the plate. It has good late life.
Roberto: Is it a dream come true getting drafted and playing Major League Baseball?
Nick Vincent: I mean everyone who gets drafted…that’s where they hope their destiny is. But I mean you got to earn it. So for me I’ve got to come down here and throw strikes and get people out. I mean I would hope to get back there, but at the same time they are not going to be bring me back up if I’m not pitching good. So I’ve got to get back doing my thing, get people out and hopefully…I mean that’s where I want to be (in MLB). If I’m pitching good, that’s where I’ll be. But if I’m not pitching good, then I’ll be down here (in AA).Roberto: Have you always been a pitcher way back to your Little League days?
Nick Vincent: In Little League and stuff, I pitched but not to be like good at it. I just did it because no one else could throw strikes. And I played outfield more back then. High school came along. The JV coach wanted me to be a pitcher so I went ‘okay’ and I started pitching then. Junior and senior year came along, and I just pitched. That’s all I did. So after that, pitching was the only thing that I could go to.
Roberto: Is there a different mindset being a reliever than being a starting pitcher?
Nick Vincent: Yeah, it’s a way different thing. You can’t be a reliever and go out there and try to start and have the same mentality because you’re not going to. You can’t go out there and throw an inning as hard you can and expect to be that good the next inning. So starting and relieving are two different things. I mean I started at junior college. I liked it. I started doing relief at Long Beach, and I liked that too. For me I think I would be more successful as a reliever out of the bullpen because you get that adrenaline going. And like for me, I want to go in with guys on base right after a starter and we’re like winning or something. And you just shut those guys down and don’t give in and take the momentum from the other team.
Roberto: What kind of pre-game preparation and research on the opposition are you doing?
Nick Vincent: I’m not really doing much. If you’ve only got two pitches. you’re going to throw those two pitches no matter what. Just because they can’t hit a change-up, you’re not going to start throwing change-ups because your change-up is not the same as everyone else’s change-up. For me I’m just going to go out there, and I just look where they’re at standing at the plate. I’m kind of studying them throughout the series, but
I mean it only takes one game to figure out what these guys can do, what they want to do with the ball. If the guy wants to go opposite field with it, then that’s where he’s going to hit the ball that way the whole time. And then you have to play the whole field. If the wind is blowing in this way, you can throw pitches that way. You got more chance for error. I just go up there, and I learn from where they’re standing in the box. I trust our catchers too. Our catchers are watching the game more than I am. So I trust them with their knowledge.Roberto: Are you paying much attention to baserunners when you are on the mound?
Nick Vincent: Yeah, you’re always taking note that they are on base, but they’re not taking my concentration off the hitter at all. I mean I’m pretty quick to the plate so if they want to steal and take the chance of getting out…I’ll let the catcher do his job. I don’t throw many balls in the dirt. I’m more of a strike guy. If they want to chance it and run for second base, I’ll let them and let the catcher throw them out. I’m not really too worried about the guys on base.
Roberto: How good of a hitter are you with the bat?
Nick Vincent: I’m not good with the bat. I got one AB last year, and I struck out. When you haven’t hit since high school and you try to go out there, it’s coming like a 100 miles an hour. Or least that’s what it feels like.
Roberto: If Bud Black calls on you to sacrifice, can you at least lay down a bunt?
Nick Vincent: If I had to, I could get that down. Bunting off a machine is way different than bunting off a guy in a game. I know that…
Roberto: Do you have any advice for young baseball players trying to make it in MLB?
Nick Vincent: I mean just go out there and work hard. Prove people wrong, that’s what I’ve done my whole life. They always said I wasn’t going to get drafted because I was too small and didn’t throw hard enough and all that. So that just gives you fire kind of deal.
You go out there and let’s say you’re throwing 85, 86 and you’re getting people out—you’re getting people out! Baseball is a numbers game. Sooner or later they’re going to have to give you a chance. That’s all I have to get back to doing and see what happens from there.
Roberto: Who were some the players that had the greatest influence on you as a pitcher?
Nick Vincent: Back in the 90’s when it was Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz, that starting rotation right there. It seemed like they were on TV every night. Watching them…what Maddox could do with ball, and then Smoltz throwing fastballs by people and Glavine had his change-up. That three starting line-up was like unreal. As a starting rotation, those were probably my favorite guys I liked to watch.
Roberto: Thanks for your time today, and we look forward to seeing you back at PETCO!
Nick Vincent: Thank you and have a good day.