Vinny Rottino is from the old adage that age is just a number. And the 35-year-old is playing like he’s a spring chicken this year for the Zephyrs.
Coming into Tuesday’s series finale against Nashville, Rottino is tied for the team-lead with a .336 batting average and that mark ranks fifth in the Pacific Coast League. He has a team-best 22 RBI and also leads the club with 20 runs scored, as the Z’s have climbed to second place in the division behind Round Rock.
Rottino credits his offensive surge to four years ago, when he played for the Zephyrs for the first time. In 2011, playing for manager Greg Norton and hitting coach Damon Minor, both former major leaguers, Rottino said he picked up a couple adjustments that he continues to use today.
“Using some of those adjustments back then and going to Asia I learned how to block stuff out a little bit better, mentally,” Rottino said.
After spending time with both the New York Mets and Cleveland Indians’ Triple-A and MLB clubs in 2012, Rottino spent the last two seasons playing in Asia, first in Japan’s Pacific League in 2013 and then in the Korean Baseball Organization last year.
Over 313 at-bats in the past two seasons, Rottino hit .275, with six home runs and 30 RBI. He’s on pace to shatter those numbers this year, but knows he learned invaluable lessons playing in the foreign lands.
“They just are so demanding over there and I stay in the moment a little bit better now. It was a good experience to be over there and if I go to the big leagues, that’s going to have to happen again. You have to perform and to learn how to and know how to forget past at-bats, which is invaluable,” he said.
Rottino has at least one hit in every away game this year and has three hits in 14 at-bats in the current series against Nashville, which began this past Saturday with a marathon 18-inning game.
“I was talking to the first base coaches on Saturday, just trying to stay awake at that point, and I was telling them about that 24-inning game,” he said. “I was saying that it was the second-worst game I’d ever played in. The worst was the 24-inning one. It wouldn’t end. We had to finish the game the next day.”
That 24-inning game Rottino speaks of was played out over two days in May of 2006 at the now-closed Greer Stadium in Nashville. Nine years ago, Rottino was a Brewers farmhand and a member of the Sounds, giving him the distinction of being the only player to suit up for both marathon games between the two clubs.
“It was crazy, but it was cool that I was part of both games,” Rottino said.
The oldest player on the Zephyrs roster and just three years younger than manager Andy Haines, Rottino said this is the first year he’s feeling some of the aches and pains that players feel late in their careers. But with a little more precautionary work before and in between games, Rottino had learned to balance it out and keep the pain away as he’s continuing to crush PCL pitching.
“I still feel great at 35. I don’t feel it, I still feel like I can play in the big leagues,” he said. “My body has felt great every year and it still feels good, I just have to do a little bit more to stay healthy and keep those pains out of the body.”