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Fighting On Through Life and Baseball

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Written by Sarah Bergstrom, USC blog contributor

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Etched into the walls of the brand new Heritage Hall are the five attributes of a Trojan: Faithful, Scholarly, Skillful, Courageous and Ambitious. One wall fixture defines athletic Trojan courage to be "a time in an athlete's life when "Fight On" becomes intensely personal: not merely a slogan but a daily battle cry."

For Anthony Vasquez, a former USC baseball player now battling his way through the professional baseball minor league system, the concept of Fighting On is not a foreign one. From persevering through injury and the shuffle of the minor league system to a miraculous recovery from brain surgery, Vasquez exemplifies the courageous spirit of a Trojan; and his story is far from over.

The left-handed pitcher from San Antonio, Texas began his USC career in 2007 as a sophomore after transferring from Texas A&M. Taking a little time to adjust to the L.A. lifestyle, he ended up loving his time at USC. His senior year he had a 4.33 ERA through 70.2 innings of work, with 53 strikeouts and a .307 average at the plate. After finishing his degree at USC, he was drafted in the 18th round by the Seattle Mariners, prepared to put in the work necessary to make it in the big leagues. He may not have fully understood it at the time, but something Vasquez says he learned in his time at USC was the value of patience.

"Something I learned while I was here, that I think takes some maturity to really understand, is that you need to believe in the process," explains Vasquez. "It's so easy to get caught up in the highs and lows of daily competition, whether it's wins and losses, guys moving up or down around you, people's success that seems undeserved. That can get in the way of your mental focus, of accomplishing what you want. If you just trust yourself, if you have a game plan and you're executing your game plan, your time will come."


For Vasquez, his time came quickly, taking only two years to earn himself a starting pitching role for the Mariners late in the 2011 season. But his time at the top ended after seven starts, where he threw 29.1 innings on the mound and finished 1-6, with 13 strikeouts and an 8.90 ERA. His next destination was Tacoma, the location of the Mariners' Triple-A team, where he ultimately was shut down thanks to a shoulder injury. He was then sent to Peoria, Arizona to begin rehab; frustrated but determined to battle back.

"Everything happened way faster than I thought it would. You see guys taking years to go through the system but by the end of my second year I was up there in Seattle," says Vasquez. "Unfortunately I didn't take advantage of that the way I wanted to. You just never know. All I can do is focus and take care of my business and see what happens."

A career arc like his might leave some angry and defeated, but Vasquez has never lost sight of the bigger picture. He attributes his ability press on and stay grounded to his Christian faith, trusting that the plans laid out for him are seamless in their design.

"I have a pretty strong faith and that's my biggest foundation in understanding and believing things happen for a reason," explains the pitcher. "I still get frustrated, but that's what holds me together. It means that if I didn't have baseball I'd still have everything I need. Right now baseball is my path so I'm giving it everything I've got."

While recovering in Arizona in late 2013, Vasquez began experiencing strange symptoms. They started on a Tuesday when he awoke with half of his vision gone in his right eye. He practiced per usual anyway, but over the next 24 hours he developed a headache that grew steadily worse. On Wednesday afternoon he had an MRI and was told to see a neurologist. Completely by chance, one of the best neurologists in the world, Dr. Robert Spetzler, happened to practice just miles away from Vasquez's rehabilitation center in Peoria. On Friday he drove himself to the doctor, had brain surgery, and three days later was back home on his couch. In miraculous fashion, just three weeks later the pitcher was back to baseball feeling nearly 100 percent healthy. According to Vasquez, it was an experience he needed to bring perspective back into his life in the midst of a frustrating offseason.

"Things might not have been going well baseball wise but little did I know that I was right down the street from the best neurosurgeon in the world doing my rehab," laughs Vasquez. "I probably wouldn't be here without it all happening like that. It's really cool to reflect on that. It's really amazing to know that even when things don't go your way and you may not see why, you may not be seeing that there is a plan and a bigger picture."

After five years in the complex system of major league baseball playing at nearly every level, Vasquez has gleaned something valuable from each stop along the way. While his faith and perspective keep him grounded, it's his love for the game that keeps him motivated to continue in his pursuit.

"You see a million different situations," he says. "There are all sorts of career paths. That's all part of the game. No one is forcing me to be here. I love the game. You can't change the cards you've been dealt. You do what you can." As minor leaguers are currently reporting for spring training, it's back to work for Vasquez who has his sights set on a return to the majors one day to prove what he's learned since his first opportunity in 2011. He's currently still a part of the Mariners' system, but his future is an open book.

Recently he stopped by USC to train with Tom House and revisit his collegiate roots. While on campus he reconnected with USC baseball, toured the athletic department's state-of-the-art facilities, and was reminded, if only for a brief moment, what being a Trojan is all about. With a healed shoulder and a new year of baseball ahead of him, things are looking up for the pitcher.

"It's good to be back," Vasquez says with a smile.

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