Jim Vahalik doesn’t succumb to much, but broken wrist hard to overcome

July 13, 2013
In this file photo, Wild Things catcher Jim Vahalik, left, talks with pitcher Orlando Santos. Vahalik will miss a minimum of four weeks with a broken wrist after he was hit by a pitch during an 11-5 win at Florence Friday night. - Observer-Reporter Order a Print

There is no questioning Jim Vahalik’s toughness. Heck, the second-year Wild Things catcher played in five games last week with a broken nose.

Vahalik, however, suffered another injury Friday night that will keep him out of the Frontier League All-Star game Wednesday and likely out of the Wild Things’ lineup for an extended time.

Vahalik suffered a broken wrist when he was hit by a pitch from Florence’s Jason Wilson during the second inning of the Freedom’s 11-5 win at UCMC Stadium. He is expected to be sidelined a minimum of four weeks.

The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for both Vahalik and the Wild Things. Not only will Vahalik miss the all-star game, but Washington is down to one catcher on the active roster.

Prior to the game Friday, the Wild Things placed backup catcher Maxx Garrett on the 60-day disabled list with an elbow injury. That leaves Matt Mirabal as the only catcher, and he was acquired last week in a trade with the Gateway Grizzlies. Mirabal joined the team Friday.

“I spent most of Friday night looking for a catcher,” Washington manager Bart Zeller said.

There is no doubt that Vahalik, a native of Westerville, Ohio, and a University of Toldeo product, is one of the leaders of the Wild Things, both on the field and in the clubhouse. He’s a two-time all-star game selection and a player whose professionalism is praised by Zeller at every opportunity.

Vahalik suffered a broken nose during the Wild Things’ game July 6 at Evansville. It happened when he moved up the third-base line to catch a throw from the outfield, just as Evansville baserunner J.R. Higley, who was racing to home plate to score a run, went past Vahalik and hit him with a forearm directly in the face.

Snap, crackle, pop.

Vahalik said he doesn’t know if he was hit with a cheap shot or had simply veered into the path of the runner.

It doesn’t matter which it was. The pain doesn’t go away simply because an injury is the result of a clean play.

“I knew it was broken right away. I heard it and felt it break, then the blood followed,” Vahalik said last week.

While such an injury would cause many players to go on the disabled list, all Vahalik did was miss a few innings the night of the injury to get treatment on his nose. The next day, Vahalik didn’t start but did pinch-hit. He was back behind home plate in Washington’s next game.

“This is nothing new. I’ve had my nose broken four or five times,” Vahalik said. “I saw a doctor (Wednesday) and he wanted me to have surgery on the nose right away. I told him it will have to wait until after the season. My teammates have been telling me that I wasn’t that good looking anyway and that I can’t get any uglier if I wait to have the surgery.”

Vahalik’s ability to play through the discomfort both in his nose and sinuses goes back to what Zeller has mentioned many times about his catcher. The guy is a competitor. He wants to play every pitch of every game, and he approaches each as if it’s Game 7 of the World Series.

And now, we know it takes more than a broken nose to keep Vahalik out of the lineup.

“I wish I had an entire team of Jim Vahaliks,” Zeller said recently. “He never takes a play off. He’s a battler.”

Said Vahalik, “I just like the game so much that I want to play every day. I guess you could call me a control freak.

“I feel like, when I’m out there, I can control part of the game and help us win, based upon what I know about the hitters in this league. When I’m not out there, I feel like I’m letting down my teammates.”

Vahalik has been playing some of his best basebwall during the last three weeks. Since June 21, he is 15-for-43 (.349) and had a four-hit game with a home run only one night before suffering the broken nose. The surge pushed his batting average to .260. Defensively, Vahalik has thrown out 26 percent of potential basestealers.

Vahalik was a manager’s addition to the all-star game that will be played at Consol Energy Park. He is one of four Wild Things in the game, joining second baseman C.J. Beatty, outfielder Stewart Ijames and third baseman Jovan Rosa. Beatty and Ijames will be in the starting lineup for the East Division. Like Vahalik, Rosa was one of five manager’s additions to the East team that were announced Thursday.

Vahalik was batting .261 last year when he was named to the all-star game while playing for the London Rippers. He was traded to Washington about two weeks later, less than an hour before the Rippers franchise ceased operations.

Extra bases

The field for the Home Run Derby Tuesday night has been announced and it will include Beatty, who leads the Wild Things with 10 home runs. Also competing will be Lake Erie third baseman Andrew Davis, who leads the league with 12 home runs, Traverse City first Chase Burch, Greys first baseman Balbino Fuenmayor, Normal shortstop Patrick McKenna, River City first baseman Phil Wunderlich, Gateway outfielder Jon Myers and Schaumburg designated hitter Steve McQuail. … According to a statement from the league prior to the all-star voting, injured players will not be replaced on the roster.

Chris Dugan has been covering local sports for more than 30 years and has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1986. He was named sports editor in 2006. Before joining the O-R, he was sports editor at the Democrat-Messenger in Waynesburg. He is a former member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. If you have an idea for a story, send him an email at dugan@observer-reporter.com.

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