Vavra finally healthy and playing again in Triple-A

CHICAGO - The lineup card posted on May 12 in Memphis was top-heavy in Orioles prospects. Triple-A Norfolk manager Buck Britton had Jackson Holliday leading off, followed by Coby Mayo and Kyle Stowers. Connor Norby would have joined them except that he exited the game two nights earlier with a left wrist injury and didn’t play for a week. Heston Kjerstad was optioned on the 13th, with Stowers taking his place on the major league bench. Otherwise, he, too, would have been an imposing part of the order.

Batting sixth and serving as the designated hitter was Terrin Vavra. Back from a brief injury rehab assignment. Back from the shoulder surgery that brought down a season that began with such promise.

Trading in a cloak of invisibility for a Tides uniform that he hadn’t worn in 11 months.

“It’s not the level necessarily that I have aspirations to play at,” he said earlier this week, “but it’s also where I was and where I wanted to get back to.”

The journey was painful and tested him physically and mentally.

Vavra broke camp with the Orioles last spring after batting .348 with a .957 OPS, two doubles, a triple and two home runs in 16 exhibition games. He was one of the team’s biggest stories. The quality at-bats, the unexpected power, the ability to play in the infield and outfield.

It began to crash at his feet with a 6-for-26 April, making only eight starts, and an option to Norfolk. He returned on May 9 after Ramón Urías went on the injured list, was 6-for-23 and got optioned again for the last time on June 6. He didn’t play after May 31. All 12 of his hits were singles.

Rather than work his way back to Baltimore, Vavra injured his right shoulder in his fourth game with Norfolk on June 13, played the next day and was shut down until beginning a rehab assignment with Single-A Delmarva on Aug. 31. He lasted two games and was done.

The diagnosis was a torn labrum in his right shoulder that rest couldn’t heal. He had surgery on Sept. 20, with the procedure handled by Dr. Keith Meister in Texas.

“It was kind of a freak thing honestly,” Vavra said. “I was playing outfield and it happened in between innings just making warmup throws. Kind of felt a pop and some pain. I finished the game and tried to play the next day. Of course, I had some tough plays where I had to make some awkward throws and it just never got any better. It got worse. We got it looked at and found out what was going on.

“Originally, the plan was to try to rehab it and avoid surgery, try to get back by the end of the year. I think it was a couple months of rehab and then in the rehab assignment in Delmarva, the first ball hit to me was a slow roller at second base where I had to make a sidearm throw and I was right back to square one where I had the pop and the numb, tingling feeling all the way down to my fingers, and knew it was probably going to have to be operated on. Since then, just been doing the rehab thing and now, thankfully, back to being able to play.”

Tossing a baseball doesn’t usually lead to a tear. There was more going on inside the shoulder than anyone knew.

“It’s definitely kind of a freak thing, how it happened, but after having the surgery, Dr. Meister said that when he went in there it was a lot more beat up than he thought. There was a lot more damage on the backside from hitting than he expected. He said it was really bad and it needed to be done,” Vavra said.

“He said the throwing might have been the thing that set it off but that it was pretty damaged from swinging primarily, which is interesting and that’s something you obviously can’t tell from an image. You can’t really tell until you get in there. So that validated me. It made me feel like it wasn’t necessarily a freak thing. It had been brewing for a while. Just how it happened was kind of a freak incident. For me being a right-handed thrower and left-handed batter, that being my front arm, it kind of makes sense and adds up. It’s unfortunate but it’s just part of the game and something I’ve had to deal with in my career. It’s been challenging but I think it’s gonna be beneficial in the long run to be able to handle things. Not just in baseball but in life. I’m grateful for that. And I’m just trying to make the most of it.”

Vavra had plenty of time to reflect on his year. The craziness and the cruelty. The highs of making the club and being introduced on Opening Day and the lows of his two demotions and a serious injury.

“It was emotional, to say the least,” he said.

There’s also a harsh reality that feels like the team has moved on without him. That the No. 1 farm system in baseball more than covered for his loss.

The current 26-man roster has multiple players who can bounce between positions, and Holliday’s eventual return will get the Orioles a left-handed hitting second baseman.

“I think if you look at the team, there’s not a lot of holes in the lineup across the board,” Vavra said. “Reflecting back on the situation, the at-bats are going to be tough to come by and you see that again this year. That role is being manned by a few different guys and it’s really tough to find those consistent at-bats and get into a routine.

“To be somebody who was in the mix for that spot, I was grateful for that opportunity and hopefully something I can get back to. But I can’t go back and change anything. This is just part of the game. It sucks but I guess you just have to appreciate each day that you go out and play and try to get back to that spot.”

The Orioles designated Vavra for assignment and outrighted him in November. The surgery wasn’t going to tempt teams into claiming him. And the Orioles wanted to create more space on the 40-man roster.

They didn’t go over the reasons with Vavra. He gained an understanding of the inner workings of the sport from his father Joe Vavra, who spent more than two decades in professional baseball, including a 12-year stint as hitting coach, third base coach and bench coach with the Twins. Terrin’s older brothers, Tanner and Trey, played in the minors.

“There was no conversation about that,” said Vavra, who made his major league debut on July 29, 2022. “It is what it is. I’m fortunate to have a family background where you know the business side of things and they don’t necessarily have to give you an explanation. Ultimately, it’s unfortunate that you get hurt but the game goes on. That’s something that I know. It is what it is and you’ve just got to fight and compete to get back to where you were, and hopefully people take notice and you get an opportunity down the road.”

Perhaps it comes in another organization if he remains blocked. But in the meantime, he can enjoy the Orioles’ success from afar.

“That’s a special group. No doubt,” he said.

“Some of the guys that are there are some of my closest friends. I’m really proud of them, and pretty proud to feel like I’m still a part of the group, so to speak. Just being able to have the relationships with some of the guys up there. People checking in and asking and touching base has made me feel pretty connected. And no matter how difficult and frustrating the situation has been, that’s kind of been a light in the storm and something to kind of keep motivating me. You want to get back and play with these guys.”

Vavra began yesterday 7-for-31 with Norfolk. He hit his first home run Friday, a grand slam in Worcester, and also had a run-scoring single while increasing his on-base percentage to .385.

“I know it’s going to be a process,” he said. “Take 11 months off anything and it’s going to be an adjustment getting back into the routine of everything, but just to be able to get back and feel like a baseball player again, it’s pretty special.”

So is time spent with his growing family. He wouldn’t trade it for the world. And certainly not for another major league at-bat.

Vavra and his wife Carlie have a 21-month-old daughter, Tatum, and a two-month-old boy, Hudson.

“Yeah, we’ve got our hands full, but my wife’s a champ and she’s holding down the fort when we’re on the road,” Vavra said. “I’m very grateful to have a couple healthy kids and a healthy wife, and all we can ask for there.”

Life has a way of providing perspective when you aren’t expecting it. It just comes to you.

“I was actually talking to my wife about this last night,” he said. “When you think back over the last 11 months, it was a very tough time from a career standpoint. A lot of frustrations. But at the same point, we’ve got a lot of time together as a family. That was a big takeaway. And we can’t imagine not having that time together now.

“Obviously, I wish it had come in different ways, just being able to stay healthy, but that was definitely a silver lining to everything that has happened. We got some great time together, and just being able to see my daughter grow, it’s something that I don’t want to take for granted because I know there’s a lot of players that have families that don’t travel with them or they don’t get to see some of those milestones. I’m fortunate for that and all that’s happened.”


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