Ryan Vilade is accustomed to change.
He was only 3 when he and his family packed up their belongings in Grapevine, Texas, and relocated to Tulsa, a move of roughly four hours.
Vilade doesn’t remember much about that move, but he experienced many more changes in the coming years, moving three more times before the beginning of his senior year.
The only constants in his life were his family and baseball.
Vilade grew up on the baseball field, thanks in large part to his father, James.
James is an accomplished baseball coach, having coached several gigs on collegiate and minor league levels. Although being a coach’s son meant moving whenever new opportunities arose, Vilade reaped the benefits.
He would routinely accompany James to Dr Pepper Ballpark, where James coached the Frisco RoughRiders, the Texas Rangers’ Double-A affiliate. There, Vilade hung out with who are now arguably considered the sport’s premier coaches and players.
Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, Baltimore Orioles hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh and former players Tony Fernandez and Jason Hart are only a few names Vilade had the opportunity to work with growing up. All were members of the Rangers organization at some point during James’ tenure.
“There’s opportunities Ryan got to have as a young player that a lot of other kids don’t get to have,” James said. “Like working on middle-infield play with Tony Fernandez and being around great coaches in the minor leagues.
“He listened a lot and took things to heart. Tony told him, ‘If you’re going to be a great middle infielder, you have to get 100 repetitions a day.’ Someway, somehow, he’s always taken that to heart and takes pride in his defense.”
James proved he could balance the demands of being a Double-A coach and a father, and his parenting style reflected the standards he established on the diamond.
“He definitely had the standard of me becoming a good kid and being responsible and doing things the right way,” Vilade said. “Baseball wise, he just always told me to work hard and have fun playing it. It never really was a, ‘You gotta do this, and you gotta do that,’ thing, it was just becoming the man I am today.
“The way he coaches is the same way he’s a dad. He works hard at both of them, and I’m really fortunate.”
Those ballpark visits gave Vilade memories he will never forget. However, with the good times comes the tough times.
Although baseball helped Vilade connect with his father, it later put 252 miles between them.
In June 2015, James joined the Oklahoma State University baseball staff as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. With the decision coming so late in the summer and his wife Jennifer having recently signed a contract to teach special education in the Frisco school district, James had no choice but to make the move to Stillwater without his family.
Vilade quickly came to the realization that those trips to the ballpark were over. The thought of looking to the stands at Deeter Smotherman Field at Frisco High and not seeing his dad there gave him a feeling of anguish.
Despite those emotions, Vilade knew he had to accept the circumstances his family was dealt. The family planned to move to Stillwater following Vilade’s junior year, but there was an adjustment period.
“It just happened so fast,” Vilade said. “It was tough having him gone, but it was something that had to happen. It was the best decision for the family at the time.”
James looked at it as a chance for Vilade to transition into manhood and take on new responsibilities.
“Even though I was away, I felt like it was a great growing opportunity for Ryan because the responsibility he had as a brother, as a player and as a student-athlete was really tested,” James said. “Looking back, it was difficult to be away, but when you see how much growth Ryan had in that year, I was really proud of him.”
Vilade responded well to the challenge, finishing his junior year as one of the top prep baseball players in the country.
Vilade’s accolades earned him a spot on Team USA’s 18-under team, which won the gold medal at the COPABE Pan American “AAA” Championships in Monterrey, Mexico. Vilade also won the Under Armour All-American Home Run Derby at Wrigley Field in Chicago, an event James witnessed live.
“He didn’t get to see much of my high school games, but he got to come see the games that meant a lot to me,” Vilade said. “He was pretty much always there for me, which meant a lot, and I know he always will be.”
When Vilade finally moved to Stillwater, he didn’t know what to expect.
Frisco is more than double the size of Stillwater, and it holds nearly four times the amount of people. Stillwater was easily the smallest town he had ever lived in.
“It was a lot different, I’ll tell you that, going from Frisco, one of the fastest-growing cities in America, to Stillwater,” Vilade said. “It’s just a different feeling, but Stillwater has treated our family well, and we’re happy to be here.”
It was mid-August when Vilade stepped foot on the Stillwater High campus for the first time. Reece Thompson stood at the school entrance awaiting his new teammate’s arrival.
Thompson had never met Vilade, but he knew all about his baseball prowess. He studied Vilade’s highlights on YouTube and even connected with the All-American on social media.
Thompson characterized Vilade as a quiet and anxious “dude,” but whatever uneasiness Vilade felt dissipated upon that first walk on campus. The two bonded almost immediately.
“Our friendship has been good since the get-go,” Thompson said. “I talked to him and said, ‘I’ll show you the way,’ and ever since then we’ve been best friends. It was just kind of surreal because I knew this guy was going to come, and I barely even knew anything about him.
“Now it feels like he’s been here 18 years instead of Frisco.”
Thompson did everything he could to make Vilade feel at home. He made himself readily available to answer any questions or concerns Vilade might have had as a new resident of the town.
“I basically told him I was here for anything,” Thompson said. “He would not annoy me because I know if I was in his situation, knowing I could text someone a question at midnight would be the biggest thing for me. The biggest thing I could offer to him was being there for him whenever he needed something.”
Fast forward about eight months to senior night against Jenks at Couch Park.
With the game tied, Thompson delivered a walk-off hit to give the Pioneers a 5-4 win, the team’s 23rd victory of the season. Before long, the senior was surrounded by his teammates in a celebratory frenzy.
Vilade was the first to greet Thompson, sprinting from the dugout to wrap his arms around the guy he not only calls his teammate, but also his brother.
“Reece is one of the guys that we look to,” Vilade said. “He’s one of our leaders, and for him to come up with that big hit on senior night was pretty awesome.
“He’s been in Stillwater his whole life, and for him to hit a walk-off to win the game was awesome. He’s one of my good friends, one of the closest ones on the team to me, and he helped me a lot with the transition.”
Vilade didn’t shy away from sharing the experience with his father, either.
“All he could talk about was how pumped he was for Reece and the walk-off hit,” James said. “He brought it up 10 times because he was just so happy for him.”
That moment paints only a small fragment of the bond shared between Vilade and Thompson.
Stillwater took an 18-hour bus ride to Scottsdale, Arizona, to compete in the Horizon National Invitational from March 13-March 16. Along the way, the players split into pairs and challenged each other to a slew of card games.
Vilade and Thompson became a dynamic duo and swept through the competition.
“Me and Ryan ran the table from the moment the cards came out,” Thompson said. “Both of our top memories are when we just dominated the card tables.”
Of course, Vilade shares a strong bond with the rest of his teammates as well.
The Pioneers have displayed effective team chemistry, becoming one of the favorites to win the state championship in Class 6A.
Stillwater coach Jimmy Harris said Vilade has played a key role in not only the team’s success, but also in its harmony.
“One of the things we hang our hat on is our team community and chemistry, and I think the thing Ryan has added to it is (his humbleness),” Harris said. “He doesn’t act like the superstar we all know him as, and that’s the big part our boys appreciate.”
Vilade acknowledges the attention he receives from outside sources, but he said the way he was raised helps him stay keep things in perspective.
“Staying humble is the main thing; you have to,” Vilade said. “My dad always tells me it’s who you become along the way; it’s how you want people to remember you. You don’t want people to remember you as the cocky guy; you want them to remember you as the guy who got after it and worked hard and was humble while doing it.”
With the high school baseball season coming to an end, Vilade has a decision to make.
He is committed to play at OSU, but the MLB is an option he is seriously considering.
The 6-foot-2 shortstop is projected to go to the Atlanta Braves as the 41st pick in second round of the draft, which begins on June 12. The pick value is worth just more than $1.6 million.
Vilade said he hasn’t decided on the route he will choose, but he said he is thankful to be in such a promising position.
“You grow up saying, ‘I really want to play in the big leagues one day,’ and now it’s here, and there’s a chance I might get to,” Vilade said. “If I get drafted and I feel like I’m treated fair and I feel like it’s a good spot, then I’ll go pro. But if not, I’ll go to college to play for my dad.
“I’m just going to see what happens the next few weeks, and we’ll go from there.”