Vince Belnome has always been a player that has been used to the grind. That’s probably the best word to describe the life of a minor leaguer who is trying to push his way into the big leagues.
At West Virginia University, Belnome was one of three players to hit over .400 during his senior season with a .418 average. He led the team with 84 RBIs and a .519 on-base percentage. He hit nine home runs, 20 doubles and racked up a total of 89 hits. That performance landed him in the 28th round of the MLB draft, selected by the San Diego Padres.
“I had a great hitting coach at WVU, and being able to hit versus some pretty good pitching, I kind of found myself and believed that I could succeed at the next level,” Belnome said. “I was fortunate enough to be drafted by the Padres in 2009 and took advantage of every opportunity I was given.”
Belnome still remembers the day he got the call that he was going to get the chance to play at the next level.
“I was playing summer ball in the Coastal Plains League, and we were just about to take batting practice before a double header and my coach was yelling at me to get out in the field,” he recalled. “I had been glued to my phone and to see my name pop up saying I had been taken by the San Diego Padres in the 28th round was surreal.
“It was the greatest feeling in the world up to that time in my life,” he continued. “To know that all my hard work paid off to get to the next level was a very satisfying feeling for me.”
That moment marked the beginning of a journey that Belnome has been traveling for the past several seasons.
And so the grind continued.
Belnome played for several different ballclubs — eight in five years to be exact — before finally landing in Durham to play for the Durham Bulls, the Class AAA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.
There, Belnome found his stride.
In 2013 he hit .300 with 67 RBIs, eight home runs and 35 doubles with a .408 on-base percentage. He was named the starting third baseman for the International League All-Star game.
Then it happened in 2014, another milestone in the journey. He was called up to the Tampa Bay Rays in early April.
“I was in complete shock the first time I got called up because it was at 2:30 p.m. and I had a flight at 3:30 p.m. … And the airport was a half hour away in Durham,” he said of the moment. “So I ended up missing that flight and got on the next one to Tampa and made it to the game in the 4th inning.”
Belnome, whose first stint in the MLB was rather brief, was again called up on July 3, where he made his big league debut.
“My first start was in Detroit versus CY young winner Max Scherzer,” he recalled. “It was an unbelievable experience playing in front of 40,000-plus fans and facing one of the best pitchers in the game.”
Belnome went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the game. Later that week, he was optioned back down to Durham but was again called up in August. He recorded his first major league hit in a game against Scherzer later that month, a ground-rule double.
“It was a dream come true,” Belnome said of his taste of the majors. “I know I have a lot of work to do to become an every-day major leaguer ,but I hope all the hard work pays off.”
The Coatesville, Pennsylvania native has been working continually to become an every-day major leauger and knows that the process is a grueling one.
“(It takes) a lot of grinding and hard work in a minor league season,” he said. “(There are) tough travel days playing on lack of sleep. It basically makes you so mentally tough that once you get to the show its a lot easier transition in that aspect. The big thing is just being ready to play everyday and staying healthy and on the field.”
In the minors, Belnome has a career .402 average with 68 home runs, 144 doubles and 996 total hits. He’s never had a season average below .245 and has collected at least 80 hits each season. That consistency, Belnome said, is key to making it through a minor league system.
“If you don’t succeed at the lower levels, it’s gonna be tough to make it through two full seasons because there is a draft every June and 40,50 new kids are coming in to take your job,” he explained. “If you succeed at the lower levels and you work your way up you have a chance.”
When Belnome isn’t working out in the offseason, he said he enjoys family time with his fiance and his dog, bow hunting and just spending time with friends and family. To him, “offseasons are always a blast.”
When Spring Training starts up, Belnome will likely have a chance to make the Rays’ roster for the 2015 season. That’s just one more step toward his overall career goal.
“I want to be a Major League Baseball player, to be able to come to the park and play almost every single day,” he said. “I want to be able to provide for my family and just have fun doing it.”