I know better than to fall for this act. I’ve seen it far too many times in the past. But, there I was on Tuesday afternoon/early evening watching Will Venable take the first pitch he saw in Petco Park in 2013 deep to right for a solo HR. Later, he provided the proverbial nail in the Dodgers coffin when he hit a bases clearing triple in the 8th inning.
And there I was. Falling all sorts of in love with the potential of Will Venable. Again.
I just can’t quit you Will.
Will Venable toys and teases Padres fans unlike nearly any player that I can remember. In part its because Will Venable is extremely likable. In 2008 he moved closer to the Padres training facility to help aid his workouts and progress. During Spring Training in 2012 he took on Yu Darvish who, after Venable took him deep said through that Venable didn’t square up on the ball and the HR was “wind aided.” Venable’s response? “Of course I didn’t hit is squarely…because he’s Yu Darvish. And I’m Will Venable.”
Maybe it’s the Ivy credentials that make him so likable. Like former Padre Chris Young, Will Venable was a Princeton Tiger though he went for basketball (competing in the 2004 NCAA Tournament) not baseball. He took up baseball at Princeton in his sophomore year, allegedly due to his mother’s urging. This made him only the second athlete in Ivy League history to play both sports (Chris Young was the other).
He became a regular MLB member in 2009 but made his San Diego debut in 2008 thanks to an injury to Scott Hairston. He tripled in his first at-bat because, of course he did. That winter he spent at the Padres Dominican facility playing Winter Ball where he struggled mightily, racking up more strikeouts than hits (18-15). His comments about his experience in the Domincan? “I wished I was exposed to that before I wrote my senior thesis. I would’ve gotten an A. I found an infinite amount of materials to write about. And the love I had for the game.”
You can take almost any random sampling of 8-10 games in Will Venable’s career and see either the potential star that he could be or the player that suddenly and without warning falls off the edge.
The first 8 games of the 2010 season: 9/34, 8 RBI, 2 HR. Not bad. That same season he hits a HR on April 24. He doesn’t hit another one until June 23. He had an OPS of .817 in June of that year. July? .440. In 2011 he takes until May before he has a 3 hit game (he has only two multi-hit games in the month of April). But he tears up June and August of that year (OPS of .834 and .784 respectively).
Such is life with Will Venable. He has been chosen as the Padres breakout player for what feels like my entire life. He has been considered the most likely player to hit for the Padres first cycle (a feat he accomplished on May 20, 2007 with the San Antonio Missions).
He has all the tools to be a great player. And yet…he isn’t. He is at times of course. But then he gets into a slump. And all the Ivy education in the world can’t get him out of it. When he got into a prolonged slump during the Dominican Winter league, he said this about it: “Down there, it doesn’t take long for guys to expose you, and I immediately fell into a big slump I couldn’t get out of. And it was no one’s fault but my own.”
In some ways, nothing has changed. Because for all his talent and potential, when he slumps he slumps badly. And for an extended period of time.
I know all of this. I know that the Venable of Tuesday afternoon will slump and that what we saw is likely a mirage. But I also know that the potential for Tuesday to be the norm and not the exception is in him. And despite knowing better, here I am, yet again falling for the siren song that is Will Venable.
(Postscript: The following two days Venable went 1 for 8 with 1 RBI.)