From men’s league to pro baseball, Dragons reliever living a dream

Dayton's Vin Timpanelli fires a pitch plateward from Tuesday night's game vs. Fort Wayne. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED
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Dayton's Vin Timpanelli fires a pitch plateward from Tuesday night's game vs. Fort Wayne. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

Vin Timpanelli’s phone buzzed and buzzed in his pocket, but he was busy. He was coaching first base for his 11U baseball team from Staten Island. And baseball is everything to Timpanelli.

Whoever it was could wait.

Between innings in the dugout, he checked his phone. Lee Seras was the reason for the constant buzzing – three missed calls and five texts. That got Timpanelli’s attention. Seras is a scouting supervisor for the Cincinnati Reds.

It was the summer of 2020, and baseball teams were releasing more players than they were signing. COVID-19 caused the cancellation of the minor-league season and Major League Baseball reduced the number of minor-league teams. For a Division III player like Timpanelli to get signed, well, that seemed impossible.

The short of it is this: Timpanelli, a catcher his whole life, sat on the bench for two years at Division II St. Thomas Aquinas College, an hour from his Staten Island home. He transferred to Division III Ramapo in New Jersey and played part time in 2019 and the COVID-shortened 2020 season.

Well, the story isn’t exactly short. He thought his team might need pitching help in 2020 so he worked on it in the offseason. He pitched only 2/3 of an inning. The summer college and men’s leagues he had played in got late starts because of COVID.

But Timpanelli kept working on pitching with a friend, who was a Division II pitcher, and his brother, Nick. When the Mid-Island Men’s League on Staten Island finally started, he would catch a few innings then finish the game on the mound. His fastball had increased from 90 to 93 mph, and the Reds noticed. In his fifth game pitching against a range of players from high school seniors to men in their 50s, his fastball hit 95. Tom Kain, a Reds scout and owner of a Mid-Island team, called Seras immediately.

After the game, Kain told Timpanelli the Reds wanted to sign him. But 10 minutes later, Kain said there was no room to add more players. “What’re you gonna do?’” Timpanelli said. “It is what it is.” He figured he would play one more year at Ramapo.

But a few days later Seras started calling and texting Timpanelli during his 11U game. The Reds now wanted to sign him. Timpanelli, his head spinning like a curveball, talked over the contract with Seras and was ready to sign. Then he asks: “So, did I just sign as a pitcher or catcher?”

The answer was pitcher.

“I was in a full daze,” Timpanelli said as he let family and friends know while he finished coaching the doubleheader. “I don’t even know what to do with myself right now. I’m standing in Diamond Nation coaching 11-year-olds, and I just agreed to a professional contract.”

The cap last year for free-agent signings was $20,000. “I would’ve signed for $5,” Timpanelli said.

From catcher to pitcher, from small-college ball to a men’s league, from his whole life in and around New York City, Timpanelli is living what once seemed like an impossible dream as professional baseball player with the Dayton Dragons.

“I think they might have looked at me like a blank canvas,” Timpanelli said. “Like, (Reds Director of Pitching) Kyle Boddy, the genius, he sees fresh arm, blank canvas, already throwing 95, what can we do with him? Where is the ceiling?”

Timpanelli is painting a good picture with his fastball and a slider that two years ago had no break to it. He was promoted to the High-A Dragons on July 24 from Low-A Daytona. He struggled at first but has been one of the Dragons’ most reliable relievers in his last eight appearances. In 10 1/3 innings, he has allowed two hits, two runs, walked two, struck out 22 and earned three saves. For all 14 appearances for the Dragons, he has a 4.50 ERA in 18 innings with 31 strikeouts, four saves and opponents are batting only .129.

Timpanelli is learning about life on the minor-league road. But the life-long New Yorker enjoys seeing the rest of the country and finding coffee he likes in Dayton.

“I just like experiencing a whole bunch of different places, seeing how things are outside of what I’m used to at home,” he said.

As long as Timpanelli’s baseball career lasts he knows his story as the guy who was signed out of a men’s league will follow him. And he’s OK with that.

“Sometimes it’s taken a little too literally,” he said. “But it’s what was going on. In college I didn’t touch the field much at all, so most of my playing time did come in a men’s league. I guess it’s cool to have a little story behind it, give people something to talk about: ‘Oh, it’s like the men’s league guy.’”

TUESDAY’S GAME

Fort Wayne at Dayton, 7:05 p.m., 980