Cal notes: JetHawks' Vilade gives back

Rockies prospect helps special needs kids through foundation

Ryan Vilade is among the league leaders in batting, on-base percentage, stolen bases and runs scored. (Jerry Espinoza/MiLB.com)

By Merisa Jensen / Special to MiLB.com | April 22, 2019 11:00 AM

Ryan Vilade has gotten off to a strong start with Class A Advanced Lancaster, batting .322 in the first 16 games with 19 hits, including five doubles, and eight RBIs.

Being consistent at the plate is something the Rockies No. 8 prospect strives for daily.

"My biggest thing is to be the toughest out at the plate," Vilade said. "Whenever I step up to the plate, just being like, 'Here we go, you're not going to get me out.' Just that kind of mind-set. That's my goal, to just be that guy that no one wants to face."

That's always been Vilade's philosophy. That's why working through a mini-slump at the beginning of his first full Minor League season last year was a little hard for the shortstop. He was hitting .209 through May 23 but had a much stronger second half, batting .310.

"It was the first full season, first season we were going to play 140 games," Vilade said. "It was just kind of a lot thrown at you, especially for a 19-year-old. I struggled early and I learned a lot from that month. With the help of a lot of coaches and even teammates I was able to have a good second half. The team also played a good second half."

Another big help was his father, James, who's coached at the Minor League and collegiate levels. He's currently an assistant coach at Oklahoma State.

"I've been with my dad on the field forever," the younger Vilade said. "He's my guy. I go to him if I ever need something. He taught me the game. I was with him from Day 1. He's been my go-to and I'm really thankful for him."

During that tough stretch last year, James was there to offer his son some sound advice.

"He was there for the mental side of it," Vilade said. "He'd just say, 'Hey, everything's going to work out, just keep doing your thing, keep working hard, keep battling.'"

Aside from teaching his son all about baseball, James also has taught him to give back to those in need.

In 2014, James Vilade started the Keeper of the Game Foundation, an organization that supports children with special needs and disabilities to share the game of baseball.

It started with a boy in the kindergarten class of Vilade's mother who was born without legs but loved baseball. James wanted to help kids like that get closer to the game.

"They do a lot of different events, bring the kids out to the ballpark, usually give them a T-shirt, let them hang out on the field, give baseballs to leagues as game balls," Vilade said.

He's always been involved with the organization along with his mom, Jennifer, brother Trent and sister McKenzie.

"It's something that our family is very proud of and that we work hard in doing," Vilade said.

New Balance donates to a charity of his choice and he's helped donate shoes, backpacks and more to Keeper of the Game.

Vilade sports a bracelet that says "Keeper of the Game" during every game he plays.

"I wear my Keeper of the Game bracelet every day. It just reminds me who we play for: the kids that aren't able to," Vilade said. "Baseball is just a game. There's so much more to life. Giving back, being able to share those moments with the kids in the stands that aren't able to be out there. We're so blessed to be able to play this game."

Vilade met a family with autistic children after a JetHawks game last week and he made sure to tell them to let him know when they're at the ballpark so he can come and say hello. He offers that invitation to all kids with special needs and disabilities.

2019 MiLB include

"That day, I'll play for him or play for her, whatever they're going through or just sharing the game," he said. "They're out there on the field with me. Even though they're not physically out there, mentally, emotionally, they are. … You can't go out there by yourself, you have to have somebody to take on to the field every day. It's just something small and it's what I do."

For more information on Keeper of the Game, visit keeperofthegame.org.

In brief

Slow starts: Aside from Visalia, the rest of the California League has been slow out of the gate. The Rawhide boast the best record, going 13-4. Everyone else in the North Division is under .500: Modesto (8-9), San Jose (7-10) and Stockton (6-11). Rancho Cucamonga leads the South Division with a 10-7 record and Lake Elsinore is one game above .500 at 9-8, while Inland Empire (8-9) and Lancaster (7-10) are below .500.

Streakers: Speaking of the Rawhide, they went into a day off on Easter Sunday with a nine-game winning streak, taking three of four from San Jose and sweeping Modesto and Lancaster. Visalia has outscored opponents, 51-21, heading into a four-game series with Stockton to start the week.

Merisa Jensen is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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