It seemed whenever a member of the Winnipeg Goldeyes was swinging the bat well, the first person they’d credit for their success would be Tom Vaeth.
In 17 seasons as the Goldeyes’ hitting coach between 2003-2019, Vaeth became one of the most respected minds in independent baseball. In addition to three championships, Vaeth helped the Goldeyes finish in the league’s top five in batting average in 14 seasons. Despite that, Vaeth couldn’t convince a team to give him a manager position.
With Rick Forney fully cemented as the guy in Winnipeg, Vaeth had to look elsewhere to climb the baseball ranks. He came close on several occasions, most notably prior to the 2019 season when the Cleburne Railroaders were prepared to fly Vaeth to Texas to introduce him to the media as the team’s new manager, but ownership changed their mind at the last minute. For whatever reason, the Baltimore, Md., native kept striking out.
That is, until now.
Last week, the Frontier League’s Washington Wild Things announced they’ve hired Vaeth as their 10th manager in franchise history. Vaeth will have a familiar face join him as the club also hired 29-year-old Alex Boshers, a pitcher with the Goldeyes in 2018, to be the team’s pitching coach.
Vaeth, 48, interviewed on a Tuesday and was told by the team that they had a long list of candidates to go through so they would need two weeks to make a decision. That ended up not being the case as three days later they called Vaeth to tell him he got the job.
"I figured it was some bad news. It’s never good when you get called that quick," Vaeth told the Free Press from his home in Orleans, Ont. He met his wife Shelley in Winnipeg and they have two sons, Kaynen, 23, and 22-year-old Boedey.
"It’s usually a call saying ‘Hey you’re no longer in the running, we’re going in a different direction.’ But this happened to be the one. It was the right call, finally. They said they didn’t need to go any further as they liked what they had heard."
Since the news broke, Vaeth has been congratulated by many current and past members of the Goldeyes’ organization. That would include former Goldeyes slugger Reggie Abercrombie, the proud owner of essentially every batting record in American Association history, who played for Vaeth for six seasons. Vaeth stepped away from the Goldeyes after the 2019 campaign which also happened to be the finale to Abercrombie’s 20-year professional baseball career. Before the 2020 season, the Goldeyes hired former Wichita Wingnuts manager Kash Beauchamp to replace Vaeth.
Abercrombie would be the first to tell you that Vaeth has been ready for this opportunity for years.
"He pays attention to the game and he pays attention to your swing every time you do it. That’s the thing a lot of people don’t understand, this game is already hard, so to have somebody like Tom to watch every at bat, to know what’s going on with your swing, to know your swing more than you know it yourself, it’s wonderful," said Abercrombie from his home in Maryland.
"That’s why everybody praises Tom. He puts in the extra work."
Outfielder James Harris was traded to Winnipeg after winning the Frontier League’s MVP in 2018 with the Wild Things. Harris only spent a year with the Fish, but he appreciated his time with Vaeth. When the Washington job came up with Gregg Lanbehn retiring, Harris made sure to put in a good word for Vaeth. After all, the Frontier League’s an ideal fit for someone who takes pride in moulding players into better hitters. American Association teams only have to have four rookies on the roster whereas the Frontier League requires clubs to have 10, most of whom are coming right out of college.
"That was always the fun part for me to get down in that batting cage with those guys and rolling our sleeves up and go to work. Obviously, the chance to be with those younger kids who just want to be a sponge and absorb as much as they can, yeah, it will be fun to not only manage the game, but to be actually be a teacher and mentor to some of these young kids, I’m really excited about it," Vaeth said.
"For a lot of years, other personnel from around the American Association would come to me and say ‘Listen, we know you’re not getting your opportunity here. Did you ever think about going to the Frontier League? You’re a great teacher and those young kids would love you.’ So, that was always in the back of my mind over the years. So when this opportunity presented itself, it was kind of too good to be true. I had to jump on it."
Vaeth kept busy this past year working at an Amazon warehouse. It was his first summer without baseball in 25 years and he actually enjoyed it as it allowed him to enjoy some family time and get out on the lake and fish. The adjustment also might’ve been a bit easier knowing the Goldeyes were a travelling team this past season — owing to the pandemic and travel restrictions — and were based out of a hotel in Fargo. But Vaeth is anxious to return to the game as he’s eager to show what he can do when calling the shots.
"I think I’ve seen just about everything you could possibly imagine in independent baseball," he said. "It might be my first real gig as a manger, but there isn’t too much I haven’t seen."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.