Long-time coach, teammate reflect on Tanner Roark’s success

Photo by the Toronto Blue Jays TANNER ROARK will pitch for the Toronto Blue Jays this season after recently signing a 2-year, $24 million deal.

Shawn Long
Sfaff Writer

by shawn long staff writer Don’t be surprised if there’s a rush on U.S. passports in Wilmington now that Tanner Roark will be playing in Canada for the Toronto Blue Jays. Tanner fans and friends travel well and with Roark pitching for Toronto for at least the next two years under a new $24 million contract, it might be time to check if your passport is due to expire. “His dad Toby might be the first to get his new passport,” joked Lodi Vercelli, who coached Tanner from little league through high school. “Toby doesn’t have an updated passport so he’s going to have to get one to watch him play.” Vercelli is proud of all the accomplishments Tanner has had over the years and he knew early that Tanner had something special. “I coached him since he was six years old,” Lodi said. “I mean, it’s outstanding to see a young man from town like that make it to the bigs. It’s one thing to make it to the pros, it’s another thing to stick in and succeed like he has for seven-going-on-eight years. And you take a look at the success he’s had, he’s honing in on 100 wins in the big leagues which that’s not an easy thing to do. “If you take a look at Tanner over the years, it’s not at all surprising to me,”continued Lodi. “The real key to his success when he was in little league, when he was in high school and when he’s in the pros, he just outworks everybody around him. It’s that hardwork and dedication. It’s just an attitude that he carries with him that he is always going to win. If you take a look at him, the guy has thrown over 200 innings every year and has never been injured because he fights through the pain. That’s one thing that he and my son have in common, they fight through injuries.” Tony Vercelli (Lodi’s son) and Tanner were teammates on a number of successsful teams in Wilmington. In 1996, their pinto travel baseball team won the Pinto World series which was held in Joliet. A year later, they traveled to Monterey, California and took fifth in the Bronco World Series, losing to Taipei, Taiwan, 3-2 in the semifinal round. That same year, the team went to Cooperstown and placed third out of 48 teams that were there with a record of 11-1. The next year in Pony Baseball placed second in the Walt Disney World Classic and won the world series in Omaha as 14 year olds. That success continued in high school when their sophomore team finished as state champions with a 28-5 record. In junior year, that same group compiled a 33-4 record and a third place finish. Their 2004-05 state championship is what captured the nation’s attention as their 41-1 season was ranked in the top 10 in USA Today as the most wins by a high school team. Tanner’s seven seasons in the Majors have been with the Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds and the Oakland Athletics. His payday arrived last week when his agent, Matt Colleran, recently accepted a two-year, $24 million deal from the Toronto Blue Jays. Toby Roark said other teams including the Brewers, Cardinals and Reds were interested in Tanner. “The problem was they were only one-year deals and Tanner was looking for at least a two-year committment,” Toby said. “We’re happy for him as he has certainly put in his work to get the deal.” Tony Vercelli was in Toronto for business the week of Tanner’s signing. “There were rumors that Toronto was interested and I was in Toronto last week for work when he signed, so it’s a funny coincidence. I texted him ‘I’m actually in Toronto, are you here by chance? ‘ He’s like, ‘no, not yet’, but it was neat when we found out.” Tanner’s former teammate and friend couldn’t be happier that Tanner’s hard work and grit is paying off. “It’s pretty exciting,” commented Tony. “I know since he’s been called up back in 2013, I know all of us have been pretty close with him over the years. I was excited for him. It’s a great opportunity. He’s worked his butt off in the minor leagues and now in pro ball. Everybody knows how hard it is to stay in major league baseball let alone excel as much as he has. He’s earned every dollar he’s made so it’s a pretty cool ride that he is on.” Tony noted that as youngsters, Tanner had an advantage over all other players. “You always knew he was an exceptional talent even when we were young,” noted Tony. “He’s moved up in his career with figuring out a way how to keep excelling. Plus, Tanner has always thrown hard, he’s had great offspeed pitches but when you get to the major league level, everyone does that so there’s a lot of guys that are similar to Tanner’s talent but the one thing I think separates Tanner from a lot of other guys is his desire and will to win. He’s a grinder. He figures out how to get guys out and he makes adjustments during the game. He’ll change his pitches. I knew he would excell when he got in because even at an early age, Tanner had that grit and desire to just win and be competitive.” The 33-year-old Roark is coming off of a season with the Reds and Athletics where he accumulated 165.1 frames, posting a 4.35 ERA. His strikeout numbers have gotten better as according to MLBtraderumors.com, he’s hovering around nine strikeouts per 9.0 innings. The Blue Jays have been looking for rotation arms ever since they lost two quality starters in Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez to trades just last season so Roark should fit in nicely. He will join fellow righty, Chase Anderson, who the Jays aquired in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. After trading for Anderson, the Blue Jays continued to bulk up their thin rotation with the signing of Roark. After all, they had 21 different pitchers start a game for them in the 2019 season. The main thing that these two right-handers have in common is that they are durable and can go deep into ballgames. Tanner has made more than 30 starts in five of his last six seasons while Anderson is also a guy who averages close to 30 starts a year, firing 28 last season. Roark walked 51 batters with the two teams while Anderson walked 50 so they’re both really consistent. Roark will most likely fit in the two spot in the rotation behind Anderson. Along with the two veterans will be Matt Shoemaker (3-0, 1.57 ERA), Trent Thornton (6-9, 4.84 ERA), Ryan Borucki (0-1, 10.80 ERA), Anthony Kay (1-0, 5.79 ERA), Jacob Waguespack (5-5, 4.38 ERA) and TJ Zeuch (1-2, 4.76 ERA) as possible rotation arms. The Blue Jays were the fourth place team in the AL East with a 67-95 record but with exciting young rookies, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio coming into their own; and a strong rotation on the rise, they could rise to the top of the East in a hurry. Tanner was signed to the Toronto Blue Jays officially on Thursday and will suit up for the Blue Jays in Spring Training on Feb. 22 in the Grapefruit League against the New York Yankees, so that grit and desire to win will definitely be needed against a lineup as deep as the Yankees possess.