Fairfield's Vazquez a diamond for Manhattan
The recruiting process was over and Jenn Vazquez was about to sign on the dotted line, but Manhattan softball coach Tom Pardalis told her that once she signed, she had to go out and do one very important thing -- buy a first baseman's mitt.
In her career at St. Joseph High School, Vazquez, who grew up in Fairfield, was a catcher. A darn good one. Three time All-State and three-time All-FCIAC. But Pardalis already had a catcher, Elena Bowman, a darn good one at that, ahead of her. Rather than potentially waste almost three seasons as Bowman's backup, Pardalis told her, go buy the glove, practice and the sky could be the limit.
And it has been.
The sophomore has alternated her time this season between designated player and first base, after playing 33 games at first and playing in 55 overall last year. In 36 games to date, Vazquez is batting .305 with nine doubles, nine home runs, 36 RBI and a slugging percentage of .610. Heading into the final weekend of the regular season with a doubleheader on Sunday at Fairfield, Manhattan is 24-15 overall 13-3 in the MAAC.
"She's been awesome," Pardalis said. "I mean, she's just a phenomenal person. She's got a great work ethic, works hard, willing to play anywhere. She does a good job for us."
"It's been like, 65-35 (percent), either playing first base or DP (designated player) this year," said Vazquez. "I'm willing to play anywhere the coach wants to put me."
Despite the fact that she led the Cadets in career home runs (19), Pardalis didn't recruit her as a home run hitter. That, he said, has been a pleasant surprise. He brought her to Manhattan because of her passion.
"She brings a lot of her own personality to the program, and it fits right in," Pardalis said. "Jenn does her stuff on the field and in the classroom and that's a major plus for our program. She does not have to be babysat or anything like that, I mean, she just generates her own enthusiasm. She brings a great presence to the program."
Her father, John, graduated from Manhattan in 1984 and knowing that the school had a top-notch engineering program, that put the Jaspers in the recruiting lead right from the start.
"I went to a clinic at Manhattan as a freshman (in high school)," Vazquez said. "And when I came here I absolutely loved it. I loved the coach, I loved the team. I loved everything they had to offer. They have a great engineering program ... that was a top priority, so I kind of had my eye on Manhattan for a long time. I knew I liked Manhattan and I didn't want to go anywhere else."
Vazquez started playing baseball, not softball, in first grade. Playing with Fairfield American, Vazquez complained to her mom, Dominica, that in softball, she had to hit off a tee while the boys were being pitched to.
"I went to my mom and said, `Mom, I'm not sure I want to do this.' and she asked why and I said, "I'm hitting off a tee. I want to play baseball,' " Vazquez said. "So I played baseball from first grade through seventh grade with the Fairfield American Baseball League."
Eventually, her uncle set up a softball travel team tryout with the Stratford Breakers -- at DeLuca Field, where the Brakettes play -- and she went to St. Joseph.
"That was so cool," she said of the tryout. "I love the Brakettes. I'd watch the games against the Olympic team. I think I have a signed ball from that (2006) Olympic team."
With Bowman just a junior, it seems that Vazquez has found her niche at first base. And she's fine with that.
"Jenn's adapted real well," Pardalis said. "You know when we recruited her I told to go buy a first baseman's mitt. And she did and she worked out with it before she got to Manhattan. It's worked out. (Bowman) isn't leaving for another season yet so it'll be almost three years that Jenn hasn't played catcher, so I don't know if she'll ever go back to catching. I would say she's going to stay at first but she's willing to play anywhere."
As Manhattan advanced into the MAAC championship game against Iona, it was Vazquez that got them there. She hit a game-tying home run in the bottom of the eighth inning in a nine-inning 5-4 win over Siena and then ripped an RBI single in the sixth to defeat Marist 1-0 in the elimination round. The Jaspers defeated the Gaels 1-0 but then finally fell in the `if' game.
"We fulfilled every dream aside from winning the conference title," Vazquez said. "To make the tournament and to come back from a first day loss and make the finals, to win the first game of the finals and then, get knocked out in the second game ... it was tough. But (Newtown's) Kate (Bowen) and coach told us all season long that this was going to be a championship program. They were right."
Over the next two seasons, Vazquez will continue to work on her engineering degree. What the future holds? Not even Vazquez knows.
"My goal is to go to medical school. I've always been interested bio-mechanics and things like that. Prosthetics, that kind of thing," she said. "I'm not sure if I want to work in the research field or go to med school and become a doctor. My dream is to be a doctor, what kind? I haven't decided."