It’s been over a week since his major league call-up by the Milwaukee Brewers, but an occasional pinch is in order to let the Racine native know he’s still around.
"Definitely the first couple of nights were a little bit of an out of body experience," Rottino says. "But now that I've been here a few days, I'm starting to get a little more comfortable ... get my feet underneath me a little bit."
Rottino’s story has been told and retold, but bears repeating. Following his high school days on the diamond at Racine St. Catherine’s, Rottino went to UW-La Crosse, got an invite to a tryout camp, signed with the Brewers, and fought his way through the system. That’s the Reader’s Digest version, but a recent chat with Rottino revealed that there is much more to it.
"Actually only a couple schools recruited me to play baseball, UWL and Madison Edgewood," Rottino says. "When I went there (UW-La Crosse), it was just to play baseball."
With the Eagles, Rottino set and still owns several school records. He was named a Division III All-American, but when he didn't get drafted, most people would choose to focus on academics. Vinny did, but not for long.
"I got a chemistry degree, and went on to pharmacy school after that when I didn't get drafted," Rottino said. "So after a semester of that (pharmaceutical school) at UW in Madison, I had a tryout in Arizona."
Rottino saw the door open just a crack, but decided to kick it in. Making the bold decision that filling prescriptions could wait, he quit school and made the most of his audition. He was signed by the Brewers, and began his arduous trek through the Milwaukee farm system. But Rottino never looked back ... never thought he made a mistake. His focus was forward, it never crossed his mind to do a 180 and trade in his spikes for a mortar and pestle.
"I haven't given that any thought," Rottino said. "Once I got signed, it’s like you pull up anchor and never look back. Never give your backup options any second thought, because then you won't be fully committed to your ultimate goal."
Rottino is just the seventh player ever from Racine County to make it to the big leagues. Anyone who lives here year-round knows the challenges baseball players face in a state that buries the field in snow for six months. So how did this Wisconsinite conquer Mother Nature?
"There’s an indoor facility in Racine, pretty nice one," Rottino said. "As much work as I could get in there, I did. They say players up here in Wisconsin and up north are a couple years behind guys from down south, just because they don't get to play much baseball. Guys down south 14 years old will play 140 games year round. (I had) a lot of drive, kept hurdling obstacles and never stopped believing I could do it."
None of this is news to his former baseball coach at St. Catherine’s, Mike O’Brien. He’s been a coach and teacher for the Angels for 36 years, and doesn't hesitate to say if anyone was ever going to make it big time from St. Catherine’s, Vinny was the easy choice.
"As good as he was, he never bragged about it," O’Brien says. "Vinny was head and shoulders better than anyone around, and could have easily bragged. It wasn't just talent that got him where he is today. It was eating, drinking and living baseball."
The coach and teacher sent his pupil a letter the weekend he arrived in Milwaukee. He hopes to catch his former standout in person during the series with St. Louis next week at Miller Park. Until then, O’Brien takes trips down memory lane, spinning stories that sound like they came from a Hollywood script.
"In a game at Westosha Central, he hit a ball so hard it ripped the glove off the hand of the second baseman," recalls O’Brien. "Everything you read about Vinny today, he was the same in high school."
It all sounds like another Disney inspired sports movie, and many of his current teammates think that it’s kismet Rottino got the call up weeks after the release of "Invincible." You have to admire the fact that Rottino kept getting knocked down, but always dusted himself off. Every setback allowed this shortstop by trade to find new ways to achieve his ultimate goal. In the minor leagues, that meant playing a handful of positions.
"It helped me get in the lineup more in the minor leagues, because I was kind of a bench guy to start off," says Rottino. "I got to show what I can do with the bat, and in turn, it got me in the lineup every day."
In Milwaukee, Rottino has seen action in the outfield and third base. First base is an option, and he may even spend time behind the plate. Before our conversation, Rottino had to unload his catcher’s gear following a session with bullpen catcher, and another Racine native Marcus Hanel, warming up the starting pitcher.
"The utility thing and catching -- everyone says it’s to help me stay here. ANYTHING I can do to stay here, I'll do," Rottino says.
When you are living the dream, playing in your home state for the team you grew up rooting for, you'll drive a truck through the outfield wall to keep a roster spot. Rottino quickly answered when I asked him his major league team of choice during his childhood days in Racine. After all, some folks along the Wisconsin-Illinois border gravitate to the Cubs and White Sox.
"Definitely a Brewers fan!" says Rottino. "Racine is 25 minutes from County Stadium, so I went to quite a few ballgames. I watched Molitor, Yount, Gantner, Sveum was there ... Teddy Higuera. It’s a thrill to have Sveum and Yount as my coaches today."
Rottino came close to the thrill of a lifetime back on September 1st. Just hours after dressing in Brewers uniform number 8, manager Ned Yost calls the 26-year-old rookie’s number to pinch hit with the game on the line against Florida.
Bottom of the ninth, two outs, tying run on first. Rottino took strike three looking, and the Brewers dropped a 3-2 game to the Marlins. Even though he could not come through in Roy Hobbs fashion during his first major league at bat, Rottino relished being put in that "do or die" situation.
"I thought I was going to get the job done, honestly," says Rottino. "I've been swinging the bat well at Nashville. I just didn't get it done there. There were some nerves obviously, 30,000 fans on their feet, last out of the game, but I was confident I was going to keep the inning going."
Now it’s up to Vinny Rottino to keep his career going with the Brewers.
Bob currently does play-by-play at Time Warner Cable Sports 32, calling Wisconsin Timber Rattlers games in Appleton as well as the area high school football and basketball scene. During an earlier association with FS Wisconsin, his list of teams and duties have included the Packers, Bucks, Brewers and the WIAA State Championships.
During his life before cable, Bob spent seven seasons as a reporter and producer of "Preps Plus: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel High School Sports Show."
And the joke is, Bob has a golf shirt from all four Milwaukee television stations. Sad, but true: Bob has had sports and news anchor/reporter/producer stints at WTMJ, WISN, WDJT and WITI.
His first duty out of college (UW-Oshkosh) was radio and TV work in Eau Claire. Bob spent nearly a decade at WEAU-TV as a sports director and reporter.
You may have heard Bob's pipes around town as well. He has done play-by-play for the Milwaukee Mustangs, Milwaukee Iron, and UW-Milwaukee men's and women's basketball. Bob was the public address announcer for five seasons for both the Marquette men and women's basketball squads. This season, you can catch the starting lineups of the UW-Milwaukee Panther men's games with Bob behind the mic.
A Brookfield Central graduate, Bob's love and passion for sports began at an early age, when paper football leagues, and Wiffle Ball All Star Games were all the rage in the neighborhood.