CLEARWATER, Fla. - Ask Anthony Vasquez about his circuitous route to becoming a Phillies' minor leaguer and you won't garner much context about his story. Most professional baseball players, he contends, encounter adversity in their path to the major leagues.
"It's not just me by any means," Vasquez, 28, said this week.
Of course, but not every ballplayer overcomes a life-threatening situation a year after his major league debut. Three Novembers ago, Vazquez, a starting pitcher, was rehabbing a shoulder injury at the Seattle Mariners' spring training complex in Peoria, Ariz., when he lost some of his vision in his right eye and experienced headaches.
After visiting a doctor and taking an MRI in nearby Phoenix, Vasquez was told he needed to undergo emergency brain surgery. During a five-and-a-half hour operation, a neurosurgeon removed a ruptured arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a tangle of blood vessels in his brain.
If Vasquez had waited to seek treatment it could have been fatal. He said he was told he was essentially "a ticking time bomb."
"It all happened really fast," said Vasquez, a lefthander who made seven starts in for the Mariners in 2011. "Even the recovery was really fast, so I was just thankful for that."
Oddly enough, the shoulder injury kept Vasquez off the field longer than the surgery. He said he recovered from the operation by January 2013 and has been fine since. He pitched in games beginning that June.
"A lot of people have issues off the field that nobody knows about, too, that they've got to deal with a lot of the time - just like any other person in any other job - and they find ways to overcome it," he said. "It's a grind for a lot of people."
Vasquez spent that 2013 season with Seattle's high-A and double-A affiliates. The Mariners released him last March and he caught on with the Orioles. He pitched most of 2014 in double A, recording a 4.87 ERA in 24 appearances (18 starts). He became a free agent in November.
The Phillies kept an eye on Vasquez over the winter. He played winter ball in Mexico and helped his team advance to the Caribbean World Series. A Phillies' international scout and minor-league coach watched his first start there. Their reports were the clincher for Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan.
Vasquez, whose father, Rudy, scouts amateur talent for the Angels, is pitching on a minor-league deal. A strong spring could earn him a spot in triple A. With a fastball in the mid-to-high 80s, he's been described as a "soft-tossing lefthander." His ability to pitch and hit his spots are his biggest assets. He mixes an above-average change-up with a cutter and curveball.
Like every player in minor league camp, Vasquez's goal is to reach the big leagues. His major-league record shows an 8.90 ERA and the same number of home runs allowed (13) as strikeouts. While he seeks another chance, the opportunity to pitch even 291/3 innings there was "a blessing," he said.
"The way it's all worked out so far, and the way my life has kind of played out after that, even with the surgery and everything, I mean I wouldn't take it all back for anything," he said.
"I'm a man of strong faith and so I really believe I was constantly in the right place at the right time and I'm really thankful for that. . . . You control what you can control and [I] try to take care of what I can. The Phillies gave me an opportunity right now and we'll see what I do with it."