For the overwhelming majority of high school baseball players preparing for collegiate careers, spring seasons are spent grinding away at the sport they hope to spend their entire early adulthood playing.
Not Shippensburg’s Tony Vavaroutsos.
The sophomore standout outfielder, who was born and raised in Ontario, Canada, played slow pitch softball in high school because his school — Mary Ward Catholic Secondary — did not offer baseball as an organized sport.
“It was the biggest confidence booster I could’ve ever asked for,” Vavaroutsos said with a laugh. “It’s hilarious to look back on.”
The thought of a college baseball player not having played baseball in high school may seem ludicrous, but such is the norm in Canada. There, baseball takes a backseat to more popular indoor sports like ice hockey and basketball.
The stigma against Canadian baseball players is something that Vavaroutsos uses to motivate himself.
“When most people think of Canada, they think we’re all hockey players,” Vavaroutsos said. “So when we come down as baseball players, they think we’re just a joke. So there are a lot of gritty Canadian baseball players that just want to prove themselves.”
Despite the obvious obstacle of not being able to play baseball at Mary Ward Catholic, Vavaroutsos was able to gain exposure while playing for the Toronto Mets Baseball Club.
Vavaroutsos spent his high school summers playing in showcase tournaments across the midwest United States. He would travel by bus with his team and play in front of scouts in Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee, among other states.
That’s not how Vavaroutsos first connected with Shippensburg, however.
Rick Leitch, one of his coaches with the Mets, had previously coached at Salem University in West Virginia. Salem also happens to be the alma mater of SU assistant baseball coach and recruiting coordinator Sean Williamson. It was through that connection that his scouting videos made it in front of the right eyes. After that, Vavaroutsos arranged his first visit to Shippensburg.
“I loved the campus and how close the classes were to each other,” Vavaroutsos said. “The facilities were top notch, too.”
Vavaroutsos hit the ground running at SU, and made a name for himself from the get-go. As a freshman in 2019, the slugging outfielder hit .336 with seven home runs and a team-leading 38 RBIs.
For his performance, Vavaroutsos was named the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Eastern Division Freshman of the year. He was also named to the All-PSAC Eastern Division Second Team.
“It honestly meant the world to me,” Vavaroutsos said. “It gave me a sense of what I can do if I keep working really hard. I was sort of overshadowed growing up — I wasn’t the strongest, I wasn’t the fastest, I didn’t hit the ball the farthest. I was just the guy who works hard.”
The transition from baseball in Canada to baseball in the United States for Vavaroutsos has been a welcome one. In Canada, players aren’t allowed to step on a public field until May 1 because of the extreme cold. Here, where Vavaroutsos and the Raiders practice almost every day beginning in January, the opportunities to grow are plentiful.
Before the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic shut down the 2020 season, Vavaroutsos was off to a similar torrid pace. Through 17 games — approximately one-third of the Raiders’ schedule — Vavaroutsos was tied for third in the PSAC with five homers. He was even named the Toronto Mets Alumni of the Month for February by his old organization.
When the NCAA cancelled all 2020 spring sports seasons, Vavaroutsos returned to Ontario where he is staying limber through daily throwing and sprinting.
“The pandemic hit the team hard, especially because of how close the group was and how much we valued the seniors on the team,” Vavaroutsos said.
He is preparing to play with the North Adams (Massachusetts) SteepleCats of the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) this summer.
During this global pandemic, baseball is not at the forefront of anyone’s mind. But one thing is for certain when Shippensburg baseball returns: Tony Vavaroutsos will be ready.