ABL notes: Family affair for Aces' Vavras

Twins bench coach managing, two sons playing on Australian circuit

Trey Vavra batted .344 with a home run through his first eight ABL games with Melbourne. (Ian Knight/SMP Images/ABL Media)

By Xavier Player / Special to MiLB.com | November 9, 2015 10:00 AM

Bonds, Fielder, Griffey, Gwynn, Ripken. These are all names associated with famous baseball families, where Major League talent and experience has crossed the generational line. 

For the Melbourne Aces of the Australian Baseball League, a trio of Vavras grace the roster this season, and it may be one of baseball's most unusual sights.

Twins bench coach Joe Vavra, who reached Triple-A with Albuquerque Dukes (Dodgers) in 1986 is managing the Melbourne club this ABL season, while two of his sons, Tanner (who spent 2015 with Class A Advanced Fort Myers) and Trey (a member of the Class A Cedar Rapids Kernels in 2015) joined the Aces as import players shortly after he was announced as manager in August. 

All three are part of the Minnesota system, yet this is the first time their paths have crossed for any extended period of time at the professional level.

"Whoever your manager is, you are always going to have a level of respect for them," said Tanner, the older of the two. "The difference with being managed by our dad is that we've had that level of respect for him for 20 years before getting into the same clubhouse as him."

Both Tanner and Trey also have a level of admiration for their dad's achievements. Regrettably for Tanner, these were opportunities he feels he didn't make the most of during the early days of his career.

"I underutilized it until late in my high school career," the second baseman said. "One of the things I passed on [to Trey] was not to wait as long as I did."

As the oldest of the three children in the Vavra household, Tanner made sure he spent time offering advice to his younger siblings so they would be appropriately prepared if and when they faced the same hurdles. He impressed upon Trey to make the most out of their homemade fountain of knowledge.

Trey heeded his older brother's advice.

"His knowledge of the little things and picking up parts of the game is incredible," said the first baseman.

With their dad spending more than two decades in various Major League systems, time with Joe was scarce for the Vavra boys, giving it a greater importance when they got the chance. With the turning of the seasons, the majority of time the three spent together was away from the diamond. 

"I wouldn't say Tanner or Trey were able to take in all of the knowledge that I could give them based on time," Joe said. "My time home around them was the winter time, and they were involved in football and hockey during that time."

The manager is adamant that ensuring Tanner and Trey had lives beyond baseball ultimately got his sons where they are today. 

"They were active in all sports, not just baseball," Joe said. "You play wherever and whatever sport is in season. I was trying to be a normal dad -- play high school ball, play advanced high school ball, go to college and see what happens from there. I never gave them any special favors. I wanted them to earn it, which they did."

While some imports may look upon their time in Australia as a holiday, it is obvious that the Vavras have their sights set on a common goal -- being part of the first Melbourne Aces side to win a Claxton Shield title. Melbourne has made just one ABL championship appearance in 2011-12. 

Joe admits while managing his two sons has been fun, it carries many similarities with being a parent. The need for discipline exists on and off the field, and while the discipline he gives his sons in the clubhouse may seem like tough love, he believes it has made them stronger -- both as ballplayers and young men. 

"I've tried to keep separation between kin and player," the manager said. "I've always done that with them. I've always given teammates more attention than my own sons, I don't want to be giving them anything extra."

Success in baseball is impossible without a competitive drive and sibling rivalry is a concept which is as old as time. So what happens when the two clash in the same Major League organization?

While Tanner has tried to mentor Trey, the younger player admits that while he is thankful for the assistance his brother gives him, his goal is to always be one step ahead of him. He doesn't consider the high standards set for him to be overly rigid, particularly now that he's playing under his dad.

"Standards are always high with your family, but I like playing him because of his knowledge," Trey said. "If you've got open ears around him, you'll learn a lot."

The Aces' brothers have started hot. Through their first eight games, they boasted averages north of .300 and OPS marks above .800. Trey sported a .344/.382/.469 line while Tanner raked at a .318/.444/.591 clip. Each had one home run after the season's first two weeks.

There is still a lot to play out in the Melbourne clubhouse, but no matter this season's outcome, Joe hopes the season creates a lifetime of lessons for his family.

"The memories will come every day," Joe said. "I say [to Tanner and Trey] that you need to write things down. Down the track we can say, 'Hey, remember when we were in Australia and this and this happened?' Then we can sit back and laugh about it."

Until then, the focus is on taking steps forward both on and off the diamond. If the family journey ends with a championship in February, it would be a fairytale ending to a story over 20 years in the making.

Notes from abroad

Western warriors: Some wins are a long time coming. For the Brisbane Bandits, it was a series victory over the Perth Heat in Western Australia. The Heat swept the Bandits in the last week of the regular season, causing them to miss the playoffs and paving the way to another Perth title. Brisbane's Round 3 series victory was its first ever in Perth with two Friday wins and a split doubleheader Saturday.

Marathon Melbourne: The longest game in ABL history kicked off at 4 p.m. local time Saturday in South Australia between the Melbourne Aces and Adelaide Bite. Five hours and 17 minutes later, the Aces finally came away with the victory, outlasting the Bite, 5-4. The game was originally slated as a seven-inning clash, the first of a doubleheader. Game 2 was postponed with the sides playing a pair on Sunday. Adelaide claimed for a 3-1 series victory.

Charging back: Down 7-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth Sunday, it looked to be all over for the Canberra Cavalry as they aimed to take the series against their closest rival, the Sydney Blue Sox. A 10-hit fifth inning produced five runs and lit the fire. In one of the wildest games of the season, the Cavalry took the lead in the sixth, before giving up three in the seventh to trail, 10-8. Canberra rallied again with a run in the eighth, and Jason Leblebijian delivered the walk-off win when he cannoned a ball in to right field, scoring two to give the Cavalry the series. The win puts the Cavalry one game ahead of the Bandits, who they face in Brisbane next weekend.

Tyler Maun is a contributor to MiLB.com and also contributed to this report. Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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