Mound of work: Vanek gleans new perspective on pitching as he recovers from surgery

Rodrick Anderson

Barbe’s J.C. Vanek is at home on the mound. But the southpaw LSU commitment had to find another way to get into the Bucs’ lineup this season after Tommy John surgery sidelined him.

Instead he focused on hitting and playing first base, helping to lead the Bucs to their 11th state title and second national championship.

“I was like, ‘Man, I am not going to be able to pitch so I am going to have to battle for a position,’ ” Vanek said. “I knew my only chance was first base when I got back.

“I missed the first 10 games and I was working my butt off all the time, trying to grind back stronger. I had that period of five months where I couldn’t do anything. They took that tendon out of my leg so I was very limited on what I could do. I really had to work twice as hard as everybody else to get back on that field.”

Vanek earned Louisiana Sports Writers Association Class 5A all-state honors while batting .384 and excelled under pressure while helping lead the Bucs to their second consecutive state championship.

In the semifinals against District 3-5A rival Sam Houston, Vanek’s single moved Kyle De-Barge to third in the 11th inning. DeBarge eventually scored the winning run. He also had three hits and two RBIs in the Bucs’ 5-0 win over West Monroe in the championship game.

“That was awesome,” Vanek said. “It is a crazy experience going out there as a sophomore, being able to experience that and playing in front of that type of crowd.

“It was a really big stage and I feel like I play better on the big stage.”

Vanek has pushed himself to become faster on the bases this summer. Playing for the Knights Knation Marucci 16U Gray team at the Future Stars Series 2023 Grads tournament Tuesday in Moss Bluff, he had a hit and a stolen base in a 2-1 win over Next Level baseball.

Vanek says his recovery has been going smoothly, and he pitched his first bullpen session Monday since his Aug. 14 surgery. He said he expects to be at 100 percent by the time the 2022 season starts.

“My first bullpen felt really good,” Vanek said. “I am still at 75 to 90 percent, but my arm feels electric.

‘I am really looking forward to pitching. I can’t wait to get back on that mound with all my guys behind me. My home is on the mound. There is nothing better than being on that Friday night mound at Barbe.”

With more experience in the batter’s box, Vanek said it will help him to better attack hitters once he returns to the mound.

“Being a position player made me focus a lot more,” Vanek said. “Whenever I was a pitcher, I would come in the dugout and sit down between innings.

“I wouldn’t really focus on the game. I would just do my own thing and make sure I was ready to go. Watching position players all year, I can see tendencies. You pick up stuff really fast, and I feel like that has helped me the most and is going to get me back on the mound.”

””

Barbe’s J.C. Vanek, playing for Knights Knation Marucci 16U Gray at the Futures Stars 2023 Grad tournament in Moss Bluff Wednesday had a hit and a stolen base Wednesday in a 2-1 win over Next Level baseball.

Rodrick Anderson/American Press

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