Venable takes circuitous route to Majors
Son of former Major Leaguer preferred to play basketball
TUCSON, Ariz. -- It's a dream job, playing in the Major Leagues. San Diego outfielder Will Venable can now finally admit as much and embrace what has become his calling.
That wasn't always the case, though.
"I imagine a lot of the guys in our clubhouse grew up dreaming of being a big leaguer," Venable said. "That wasn't the case for me."
It's still a little surreal for Venable, who is 27 but still relatively short on Major League experience. Baseball has become his destination, though for the longest time he chased another kind of ball.
Venable's age doesn't make him a newbie and not yet a veteran by measure of Major League standards.
Late bloomer? That's not quite accurate, Venable said.
Venable pursued basketball for the longest time, in high school and then again playing at the Division I level at Princeton. The son of former Major League outfielder Max Venable, Will Venable essentially turned his nose up at baseball.
"I wasn't really a great player even before that, even in high school," Venable said. "I hadn't embraced the challenge of baseball. I guess that I just wasn't ready for it. I didn't even know what it entailed.
"But for me, to be honest with you, I just didn't care about baseball at this point in my life."
After skipping playing baseball his senior year at San Rafael High to run track, Venable only played basketball his freshman year at Princeton. Baseball wasn't on the radar for him, though it soon would be.
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Give credit to, of all people, Venable's mother, Molly, for getting him back into baseball.
"I got back into it because my mom saw the opportunities that it gave my dad and some of my teammates," Venable said. "She thought that if you're an athlete and able to make the adjustments and pick up the game, you might have a chance.
"As I got older, I was a little more mature and ready for that challenge. I was 19 when I was a sophomore. It was tough for me breaking back into it."
It only seems natural to assume Venable's reintroduction to baseball was a rude one. But that wasn't the case, according to Princeton coach Scott Bradley, a former Major League catcher.
"He knocked on my door and said he would like to hit. We went to the cages and he's got a nice, relaxed way about him," Bradley said. "The first five pitches, he swung and missed. Will was giggling, saying 'I'm a little rusty.'
"The next five he fouled off and said he was getting closer. The next five looked like he'd been swinging his whole life. He had this nice, easy, relaxed swing we work on teaching our guys. It took him 10 swings to catch up."
Venable, a career .285 hitter in the Minor Leagues, broke through with the Padres a year ago, hitting 12 home runs in 93 games with 38 RBIs. His power played well to all fields and even at spacious PETCO park, where he hit five of his 12 home runs.
That power has been on display this spring. A week ago, Venable hit a home run over the center-field wall in Peoria, a wall that's 40 feet high. The moon shot drew applause and awes from the crowd, stadium workers and those in his own dugout.
"Potentially, he can do very good things on the field," Padres' manager Bud Black said. "Skill set-wise, he can run, he can hit for power. Now it's a matter of him realizing that over the course of a Major League season."
Venable hit a combined 24 home runs in 2009 between Triple-A Portland and San Diego. The Padres think there's some pop in his bat and that he is someone who can also hit for average. Venable said home runs aren't something he thinks about.
"I know if I get my barrel to the right pitch, the ball is going to go," Venable said. "I know that I have the strength and the bat speed to produce a home run. If I'm able to square balls up, they're going to go. I can be a guy who can hit more home runs than I have. I think it's there."
Occasionally, Venable lets his mind wander, allowing himself to think what might have been had he pursued baseball sooner, taken it more seriously. There's no point in such a futile exercise, of course, but it does cross his mind.
"But I'm happy to be taking on this challenge now," Venable said. "I kind of wish I had thought about it when I was 17 or 18. Maybe it would have made my life a little easier. But everyone has their path ... and this is mine."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.