In the backyard, Dennis Voiro throws batting practice to his two sons — Joe, 4, and Vince, 15 months.
Following Joe’s at-bat, Vince steps up to the plate, clutching a bam-bam bat almost as big as he is. The future Penn baseball captain and Major League Baseball draftee grunts like an umpire to his father to signal he is ready for his pitch.
Such scenes were common growing up in the Voiro household.
“I spent a lot of time with them in the backyard, playing catch and throwing balls for them to hit,” Dennis said. “They’ve both been playing since they could walk.”
Being more than three years apart, backyard practice for the two brothers, always at different levels, was tough. They only played together twice — once in Little League, once in high school. Nevertheless, Joe found ways to pass on what he had learned about baseball to his younger brother, from staying in shape and eating right to the rules of the game.
“He definitely didn’t learn technique from me,” said Joe, who pitched at Division III Catholic University for three seasons. “We’re very different pitchers. I never had the fastball he had.
“In D-III, you play because you want to play. It’s a different dynamic than a D-I school like Penn. But either way, moving up to that next level is an adjustment.”
Vince’s path to playing college ball would prove to be quite different than his brother’s. Though he was interested in George Washington, Boston University, Tufts and Delaware — all Division I schools — Penn was Vince’s top choice from the start.
It wasn’t until his standout senior season, however, that the interest became mutual.
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Vince’s pitching technique has been more or less the same since he was 10 years old.
“There are pictures of me throwing in Little League and it looks more or less the same as it does now,” Vince said.
But he wasn’t always the power pitcher he is today.
“It was just a matter of increasing my size and strength to really get it going,” said Vince, who now throws a fastball in the mid-90s.
When Penn coaches had their first look at Vince at camps hosted by the school, he wasn’t throwing that hard. Anxious to improve, he emailed coach John Cole and asked him for suggestions.
“[Cole] sent him a list of things to do,” Dennis recalled. “At the next camp, Vince came back stronger and really showed that he had taken [Cole’s] advice and was working hard.”
Cole, too, remembers his first look at Vince.
“He was a skinny high-school kid who knew how to throw properly — but his velocity hadn’t caught up to his mechanics,” Cole said. “Then he sent me that email, and I knew he was going to be the sort of kid we could take a chance on.”
Despite the coaches’ confidence, Vince knew that in order to play at Penn, he would need to commit fully to being a Division I pitcher.
“It was all about getting stronger physically,” Vince said. “I needed to be a bigger presence on the mound. I needed players and coaches to take me seriously. Once I committed to that, I felt like maybe I could handle this, playing at the next level.”
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The jump from high school athletics to college sports is massive and the learning curve is steep.
Vince learned this harshly his freshman year, when he posted a 6.57 earned run average and a 2-3 record over 13 appearances and five starts.
“The game got a lot more complicated quickly,” Vince said. “I couldn’t just rely on my fastball like I could do in high school. There are simply certain things you need to do differently, there are finer elements to the game that you need to understand if you’re going to be successful.”
By his sophomore season, he had improved his ERA to 5.04, second on the team only to then-sophomore Chris McNulty. It was an improvement, but still not where Vince wanted to be. Again, he ratcheted up his off-season workouts and began to focus specifically on developing his off-speed pitches.
As he improved in his second year and the following summer, he began to realize he could be a guy that could give his team a chance to win every time he pitched. And his improvement, he said, came from two factors: increasing his strength and learning from his teammates.
“We’re always together as a pitching staff,” Vince said. “So you take things from the guys around you and try and put it together yourself.”
That ability to take inspiration from his teammates goes both ways. Vince was also setting an example of his own that others, and not just his fellow pitchers, wanted to emulate. Fellow senior and infielder Derek Vigoa said his teammate is someone who gave the team confidence through his hard work and consistency on the mound.
“Every time he went out, we had a chance to win,” Vigoa said. “It made us more confident and it made us want to support him.”
At the end of his junior year, Vince had knocked another run off his average, posting a 4.28 ERA on the season, second to then-senior Paul Cusick’s 2.70. Both pitchers caught the attention of major league scouts that year — Cusick was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 29th round, and Vince by the San Diego Padres in the 47th round.
While Cusick took the Phillies up on their offer, Vince opted to return to Penn for his senior season — a decision his family and teammates agree was the right one.
“He played really well his sophomore and junior years … and really got himself on the radar,” Dennis said. “But the right situation was for him to come back and have a better season senior year.”
Vince spent the off-season between his junior and senior years fine-tuning his pitches. Dennis, who attended every game this season, said batters were “swinging at air” when Vince threw his slider and splitter.
His senior season would prove to be his best yet by a long shot. With a paltry 2.45 ERA, and five wins over nine games started, Vince proved he was and is a force on the mound.
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No matter what happens come the MLB Draft in June, no one can deny that Vince has a bright future ahead. And as he moves forward in his own career, he will leave a legacy behind.
He has earned a place in Penn’s record books, fifth all-time in strikeouts (187) and eighth in total appearances (46). He finished his career with a 4.34 ERA.
But Vince’s true legacy is intangible.
“I’ve had many a freshman parent come up to me and thank me for what he’s done to try and help their players,,” Dennis said. “From giving them advice to just talking about strategy, or just generally helping them get acclimated. I think he’s really helped to make a difference for every guy on the team.”
Vigoa said Vince’s example of hard work and dedication to the sport and to the team is the effect that will be the most lasting.
“Vince has been the embodiment of hard work and dedication, and these younger guys on the team really have no one better to learn from than him,” he said. “Any [major league] team that’s willing to take a chance on him is not going to regret it.”
No matter what happens in June, his friends, family and teammates can say they are proud of what Vince has accomplished in his four years in the Red and Blue.
“In the end, he’s worked his butt off to get where he is and I can really only be happy for him,” his brother said. “For him to come from where he was — not being heavily recruited to being a draft prospect — that just shows the effort he’s put in and how hard he’s worked for this.”
The fact that Vince can see himself coaching someday — “It would be a shame not to pass on something of what I’ve learned,” he said — is a testament to the leadership skills he’s gained in his four years at Penn.
And baseball? Vince isn’t ready to let go of the game he’s been playing since his bam-bam bat days.
“No matter what happens, I’ll be in the game, whether it’s watching, coaching or playing with a group of guys at my office,” he said.
“Baseball will always be a part of my life.”
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