Ryan Vilade walked up to the plate against a pitcher he had never faced before, on a field he had never played on, donning a jersey he had never wore.
For anyone else, it would be a stressful situation for the first day on the job, but Vilade was calm and collected.
Only weeks before, he had been in high school, trying to earn Stillwater’s first baseball state title since 2014. Now, Vilade was just trying to make contact with the ball.
He did more than that.
“I was batting 3-hole,” Vilade said in a phone interview. “I can remember it now, I had two strikes on me. I was just thinking to myself that I needed to have some hard contact and the guy hung a slider on me. I hit it out to left field to bust it open.”
Vilade said he was only trying to show the Colorado Rockies, the organization that drafted him in the second round of this summer’s MLB Draft, thet they had made a good choice.
The Stillwater High prospect has done that and more in his first season of professional baseball, playing for the Rockies’ Rookie League affiliate in Grand Junction, Colorado.
He has added four more home runs since that blast against Idaho Falls back in his June 26 debut and has made quite a name for himself in the organization’s scouting reports, even making the All-Star team in the Pioneer League.
It’s safe to say that Vilade has been as good as advertised. Preparing for the MLB with his father, James, has paid off with Ryan saying he has enjoyed his first 33 games in the minors.
“It’s been really awesome so far,” Vilade said. “I’m playing for a great team. Grand Junction is an awesome city. It’s been fun meeting new guys and playing with them and getting to get a new start to pro ball and also a good start. Learning the ways of the minor league life. I’ve really enjoyed it so far.”
Even the grind of the minor league life with 12-hour bus rides to cities like Missoula, Montana, and Orem, Utah, hasn’t dampened Vilade’s spirit because he is doing what he loves.
Plus he has a trusty playlist that makes the bus rides not that bad.
“I got a little bit of country music and some old school stuff and of course, also some rap in there,” Vilade said.
Honestly, though Vilade was a commit to Oklahoma State and bypassed school to play pro ball, he has been playing mostly against college players in his league, getting the experience anyway.
“I didn’t get to go to college like some of these guys but the mental side, some days, you’re going to have a good day against them and some days you’re going to have a bad day,” Vilade said. “That is just baseball. Some days you will go 0 for 4 and the next day, you will hit for the cycle. That’s just the way it is. You’ve got to stay strong and believe in yourself and of course, having fun.”
Most of Vilade’s teammates are coming from universities all around the country and though Vilade said he thought playing pro was more of an individual process in the minors, he and many of his teammates have formed a bond in Grand Junction.
The Rookie League is unlike other levels in the minors because it starts late in the year so it can have college players finish their seasons as well as give draft picks somewhere to develop immediately.
With such a short season and games almost every day, it doesn’t seem like many players would have time to become friends, but Vilade said the game has brought many of them together.
“It’s really laid back,” Vilade said. “There are a lot of good guys. I thought it was going to be self-promoted but there is a team atmosphere here and everyone is playing for one another. We’re trying to get a playoff spot in Grand Junction right now and everyone is pulling for one another and trying to get that championship.”
With Grand Junction being a town of about 60,000 near the Utah border, Vilade said there isn’t much to do but he doesn’t seem to mind since he is mostly tired after hours of travel on road trips or just hectic days at the ball park.
He occasionally goes out to some restaurants in town to hang out but usually just sticks to his three core items: eating, sleeping and baseball.
So far, the dedication has paid off for Vilade as he is batting .308 with 21 RBIs and those five homers. At the beginning of August, he played in the All-Star game in Hillsboro, Oregon, once again showing a return on investment as the shortstop is the Rockies current No. 7 prospect.
“Being selected to the All-Star team in my first year was definitely a huge honor for me,” Vilade said. “I had a great experience. I played well there. The other two guys for me that came to the Rockies did well and our pitcher is dominating on the mound so the Rockies definitely showed up at the All-Star game.”
While Vilade and Grand Junction are trying to earn a playoff spot, he said after the season ends early next month, he is going to be playing on the USA Baseball team for the third time when the 18U squad heads up to Thunder Bay, Canada, for the World Cup.
“I will go up there with some leadership, being one of the older guys there and help them to the best of my ability,” Vilade said. “Playing with USA across your chest is always one of the best experiences of my life and winning a gold medal and dogpiling in a different country is one of the greatest feelings in America. I’m excited to go there and do my thing and have some fun.”
After that, he is going to head to Arizona for some more training before returning to Stillwater for the rest of the offseason. When he starts his first full season next spring, Vilade said he doesn’t know where he is going to go yet, as is the fate of most minor leaguers, but if he keeps playing like he is now, he won’t be a minor leaguer for long.
“It’s crazy to think that two months ago, I was trying to win a state title and now I’m trying to win a ring at the professional level,” Vilade said. “That just shows how life is. It goes by fast, so you got to enjoy it day-by-day.”
Bishop writes for the Stillwater News Press.