Joe Vavra had a job to do, but the Twins third-base coach couldn’t help but be a bit preoccupied as Minnesota took on the Houston Astros on June 7.
It was the third and final day of Major League Baseball’s draft, and Vavra had a vested interest in one particular draft pick. So during the game, Vavra snuck into the Twins’ clubhouse to check on the draft process. He quickly saw that the draft was in the 22nd round but he didn’t see the result he had hoped for, so he returned to the dugout.
After the Twins closed out their win against the Astros, Vavra retreated to the locker room and kept a close eye on the computer. The draft was in the 33rd round, and Vavra was growing antsy as he waited for one specific name.
Then, with his eyes glued to the computer, Vavra finally saw the result he was hoping for when the name "Trey Vavra" popped onto the screen. Making things even sweeter for the Twins third-base coach was the fact that Minnesota was the one who drafted his middle son.
"I was trying to be the third-base coach and concentrate on that. It’s pretty tough in that situation," Vavra recalls. "It was relief and excitement all at the same time, and a big old fist pump and a ‘yes’ and on we went."
For the second time in as many years, a Vavra was drafted by the Minnesota Twins. In 2013, Tanner Vavra went in the 30th round, three rounds earlier than his younger brother. That, too, was a special time for Joe, as the oldest of his three sons became a professional baseball player. Tanner Vavra’s route to the draft was a long one that included a stop at a junior college before the senior infielder landed with his dad’s organization. He also had to overcome an injury from childhood that left him blind in one eye.
Trey, too, played junior college with his brother at Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin before eventually playing one year each at Eastern Illinois and Florida Southern College. Though he had heard from several major-league teams that had interest in him leading up to the draft, Trey Vavra had to wait even longer than his brother before finally hearing his name called.
In the end, it was well worth the wait.
"I couldn’t have been happier to be a part of this great organization with my dad and Tanner, obviously," Trey Vavra said. "It’s kind of a blessing."
A baseball family
Joe Vavra grew up in Chippewa Falls, Wis., and came just one level away from reaching his dream of being a big-league baseball player. He was drafted in the eighth round by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1982 and played five seasons in the minors. Vavra spent parts of three years with Triple-A Albuquerque, so close yet so far to the majors. After his playing career ended in 1986, Vavra soon continued his life in baseball as a coach and later as a minor-league manager.
Tanner was born soon after. Two years after the birth of their first son, Joe and his wife Lesa had another boy, Trey. For as long as the two boys can remember, they and their youngest brother Terrin have always been around the game of baseball.
They have their dad to thank for that.
I couldn’t have been happier to be a part of this great organization with my dad and Tanner, obviously. It’s kind of a blessing.
"It’s definitely a big reason why we’re doing what we’re doing, why we chose to stay with baseball after high school and not pursue the hockey route," said Tanner, who also played hockey and football in high school. "Trey could have went and been a Division I goalie and I contemplated doing the junior (hockey) thing, too. When you do something your whole life and your family is as much a part of the game, you can’t really walk away from something like that. It’s a little deeper than some people think."
Both boys stuck with baseball despite the allure of hockey. Tanner quickly adapted to the blindness in his eye from an injury when he was three to become a solid second baseman with a knack for getting on base. Trey’s skillset took a bit longer to develop, but he became a power-hitting first baseman in college who could drive in runs.
Along the way, from Little League to high school to the Northwoods League and now the pros, Tanner and Trey have had their father to turn to whenever they had a question about baseball. Most of the time, though, Joe doesn’t play the role of coach when talking to his sons. To them, he’s just "Dad."
"To be honest, a lot of times when we talked it was just, ‘How’s it going?’ and ‘Stay positive,’" Trey said. "It wasn’t much about mechanics or anything like that. It was just about having fun."
Added Tanner: "He looks at the box score and sees an 0-for-3, ‘Well, did you hit it hard? What did you do? What was the pitch sequence?’ . . . Other than that, it’s not too much of just strictly baseball. It’s more of, ‘How’d you help your team win that night?’"
Because Tanner and Trey are in the Twins’ system, it’s easier for Joe to keep tabs on his boys. He’ll get the daily box scores from each of the team’s affiliates, and he’ll glance at the scouting reports. Tanner is currently at Low-A Cedar Rapids and batting .253 with 10 RBI in 46 games. Trey has just four games under his belt with rookie league Elizabethton but collected a double and four RBI in his first game as a professional.
As someone who coached at the rookie league level for a number of years, Joe Vavra has a pretty good understanding of what his sons are going through. Tanner also passed on advice to his younger brother once he was drafted since he had just endured the same process one year earlier. He even gave Trey some phone numbers of people to call in Elizabethton if he needed a ride to the grocery story or to church.
"I’ve probably given him a few too many tips," Tanner said. "On the field, he’s a completely different player than me. Same morals, same work ethic on the field and off the field, but it’s kind of he’s going to be a guy that’s going to shoot the gaps and put a few balls over the wall, where I’m going to be the guy who tries to score the runs that he’s driving in. We each have our own things that work for us. Any questions he has, I try to help him out as best I can."
Since they’re two years apart, Tanner and Trey rarely played together on the same teams growing up. There was the 2011 season at MATC when Tanner was a sophomore and Trey was a freshman, and they roomed together that year in Madison, too. One of their only other experiences as teammates was at the Northwoods League All-Star Game in 2012 when Tanner was playing for the Alexandria Beetles and Trey was on the Duluth Huskies.
Aside from that, they’ve watched each other and rooted each other on from afar — Tanner went from Madison to play at Valparaiso, while Trey went to Illinois and then south to Florida. Now they’re both in the same organization, one they grew up watching as their dad has taken on different roles with the Twins’ coaching staff.
Now as Tanner and Trey Vavra continue their baseball careers with the hope of one day stepping foot on a major-league field, they have the support of each other — and their dad — to keep them going.
"I didn’t make any calls on behalf of the boys. I didn’t make any calls to our people or anybody else. I just said I’m going to let the process take care of itself," Joe Vavra said. "Your talent’s going to take you so far, and your intangibles can get you a little bit further. But eventually, you’re going to find out how good you can get, and other people are going to keep evaluating you until either you can make it or you don’t. It’s about preparation for life after baseball while you’re doing it."