WHETHER OR NOT we realize it, one of the reasons for our fascination with professional sports is that they share so many variables with the lives that we live.
You can wake up with a body feeling like a million bucks, a head uncluttered and free, and talent that is the envy of your fellow man, but you cannot control the strike that is called a ball, or the grounder that sneaks through the infield, or the blooper that finds the one patch of grass not guarded by a defender.
Last year, Vance Worley experienced many of these moments, none more significant than the one that occurred on the morning of Dec. 6, when the continuous buzzing of his phone kept interrupting the closing stages of his elliptical workout at Citizens Bank Park.
"Two-one-five," he thought, noting the area code of the number on the screen of his phone. "That can't be too important. Probably just a sales call."
But then the number called again, this time leaving a voice mail. "Hey Vance," the voice said. "This is Ruben. Call me back."
Uh oh. Worley returned the phone call. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was on his way back from the baseball winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn. He repeated the words no young pitcher ever expects to hear.
"He said, 'We traded you,' " Worley said Thursday as he recalled the conversation. "I said, 'OK . . . ' I didn't say anything. He said, 'To the Twins.' He said, 'Do you have any questions.' I said, 'No.' "
A million thoughts flashed through his mind, the telephone still to his ear. The first was about the ring. Not the one he will not get a chance to win in a Phillies uniform. The one that was waiting at the jeweler, where he was scheduled to pick it up that day so that he could request the hand of his girlfriend in marriage. He had just signed a lease on a three-bedroom house in South Jersey, shipping a load of belongings out from his home in California. He was rehabbing from surgery that removed bone chips from his right, throwing elbow, but he was also planning the start of a new life, one of an East Coast family man.
The romance between Vance Worley and Maricel Vivas sounds like something out of a Kevin Costner movie, if Costner made movies in the social-media era. In September 2011, Worley was scheduled for an autograph signing in Aston, Pa. Vivas' brother knew she was a big fan of Worley's, so he joked that she should travel from Roxborough "to see her boyfriend." She did, getting Worley's autograph and snapping a picture with him.
Later, via Twitter, she sent the pitcher a link to the picture. Around that same time, Hunter Pence went on Twitter asking if any of his followers wanted a date with fellow Phillies outfielder John Mayberry Jr., who had recently been featured in a New York Post gossip item that said Mayberry was trying to get a date with a model/actress who appeared in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.
Vivas responded to Pence.
"She said, 'I want a date with Vance Worley,' " the righthander said with a rueful smile.
So they set up a date for after a game. As fate would have it, the game was a win over the Cardinals that clinched the Phillies' fifth straight National League East Division title. "So I'm sure I smelled like champagne and cigars," Worley said.
But they hit it off. Every now and then, Vivas would be watching a Phillies game with her family, and she'd spot Worley and point to him and say, "That's the guy I'm dating." Her family, according to Worley, was not convinced that it was anything more than a fling. When she told him this, he offered a solution.
"Why don't I go meet them?" he said.
So Worley and Vivas headed to Roxborough. Worley knocked on the door. Her mother answered with a startled expression.
"I know you," she said.
Fresh off a solid rookie campaign in which he had locked up a job in the Phillies rotation for the following season, Worley was walking on air. But then the most trying year of his life began. Maricel's father, Lito, suffered a heart attack and slipped into a coma. Every week, Worley and his girlfriend were at his bedside. Worley is very close with Maricel's family, and he feels close to her father.
"But he's only met me once," Worley said.
Midway through the 2012 season, his pitching elbow plagued by bone chips, Worley fielded one of the most devastating phone calls of his life: His grandfather had been diagnosed with throat and mouth cancer.
"Things just kept on piling up," Worley said. "It was tough."
By the time Worley got the news that he had been traded, his grandfather's health had taken a turn for the better. But Maricel's father was still in a coma, which is why his decision to ask her to marry him took on even more significance. Now, they would be living in Minnesota.
"I was just so numb," Worley said. "Like, man, that's how it is. The business of the game. I get it."
Three months later, Worley, 25, has settled into his new environment. He is the leading candidate to start on Opening Day for a rebuilding Twins team. Unlike Philadelphia, where he was one of the youngest members of one of the oldest clubhouses in the majors, Worley is surrounded by twentysomethings.
"Here, I'm not behind anybody," he said.
The Phillies play the Twins twice this spring, the first game coming on Wednesday in Fort Myers, Fla. They also travel to Minnesota for a three-game regular-season series June 11-13. Worley is excited about meeting his old teammates next week.
"But I'd rather wait for the regular season," he said.
For now, he'll concentrate on getting ready for 2013, his last season before arbitration, when the big money starts to arrive. Maricel, by the way, said yes. The couple found a place in Minneapolis and is eyeing the fall for a wedding. Their greatest hope is that Lito can attend.
"Right now we're praying for a miracle," Worley said.
It goes without saying that most of Philadelphia will join them.