SPORTS SHORTS: Western Michigan University coach, Suds recruited John VanderWal
March 28, 2009 09:00AM
Published Mar. 28, 2009.
It was a beautiful baseball day in May, 1984. Western Michigan University
baseball coach Fred Decker invited me to accompany him and observe the
recruiting of John VanderWal, an outstanding athlete in the sleepy town of
We arrived on the scene following a Detroit Tiger scout who was working to sign
the slugging outfielder. VanderWal had a batting stance an almost carbon copy of
the wide stance of the world famous Boston Red Sox Ted Williams. Both of them
were left-handed hitters.
VanderWal is an only child. His mother and father were not excited about young
John, (father also named John) hitting the minor league trail to the major
leagues. They preferred the Western Michigan University route.
His mother was emphatic in saying, quot;We prefer he play three years at Western
where we can see most of the games.quot; She was a bank employee and able to get off
work in time to see almost every home game on the schedule and many of the road
trips. She and husband John, who owns his own business, were able to get away
for many of the games including the annual trek to Tiger Town in Lakeland, Fla.
The slugging outfielder turned out to be everything Decker expected, signed at
the end of his junior year and played 14 seasons in the major leagues before
retiring in 2004. His best season was with Pittsburgh in 2000 when he hit for an
average of .299, slammed 24 home runs, and 94 RBIs.
He is married to Deb (a Western Michigan Alumni) and living in Grand Rapids.
They have two children. He and his business partner Jim Cox operate their
company, PriorityHR, a successful Human Resource Outsourcing Firm in Grand
The game never really leaves the life of such an established player and arguably
Major League Baseballs best pinch hitter of the modern era. He recently took up
the Sandiego Padres calls for assistance in evaluating players as a scout during
spring training. The organization is fond of John and allows flexibility for his
family and business during the 4-6 weeks commitment. VanderWal's 14 years in the
major leagues included stints with Cincinnati, Colorado, Milwaukee, Montreal,
New York Yankees, Pittsburgh and San Diego.