Baseball is a special link for these A’s
By GLENN MILLER
Roy Hobbs Baseball
One is north of 50 and the other hasn’t turned 40.
Yet, 54-year-old Ross Vukovich and 38-year-old Ryan Armstrong are friends and teammates on the always competitive Akron A’s.
These men have trod similar baseball paths. Both played college baseball and then coached for a while. They love and respect the game and know that is the case with the other.
“Well, from a baseball standpoint, we see it the same way,” Vukovich said. “You get what you earn.”
It’s team first. Always. With both men.
“It’s always about the team,” said Armstrong, who was a 4-year starter at Division III University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio. “How are we going to beat the other team? There are no egos on the A’s. We try to play the game as good as we can.”
That sounds like the words of a coach. That’s another connection between these two men. They have both coached.
Armstrong was once hitting coach and recruiting coordinator at Mount Union.
Vukovich once was on the baseball coaching staff at the University of Cincinnati with a fellow much better known now as a football coach – Urban Meyer. Meyer had briefly played minor-league baseball before launching the football career that now has him at Ohio State.
Vukovich doesn’t claim to be pals with Meyer.
“He may not remember me,” Vukovich said.
Armstrong certainly remembers Vukovich. They met though Roy Hobbs baseball.
Vukovich has always been impressed with Armstrong’s athletic gifts.
“Amazingly fast,” Vukovich said of Armstrong, who uses that speed to play centerfield and bat leadoff. “Amazing instincts.”
Although there is a 16-year age difference, Armstrong respects his seasoned friend’s ability.
“What’s amazing about Ross is that he’s still a very good baseball player,” Armstrong said.
The outlook that one gets what one earns on the diamond also applies to their lives away from baseball.
“We see life the same way,” Vukovich said. “We work so hard at the same things, being a husband and father.”
He respects Armstrong’s ethics and knows if clients invest money with Armstrong, a financial advisor, it will be protected. Just like even more important things
Is your money safe with his friend?
“Your money, your wife, your kids,” said Vukovich, a 3M sales account representative.
There is no higher praise than that.
Armstrong said he knew Vukovich before they became teammates. They played on opposing teams in the 1990s. It wasn’t until 2006 that they became teammates and then friends.
Baseball, of course, remains a special link between these teammates. Baseball also means family. Vukovich’s son, R.J. , plays on the Croatian national team.
So whether it’s baseball in leagues around Canton and Akron or at the Roy Hobbs World Series in Fort Myers or watching R.J. play for Croatia in European tournaments, respect for the game is important.
“Absolutely,” Armstrong said.
That respect is evident, Armstrong believes, in how his friend approaches the game.
“What’s great about Ross is he’s still trying to learn,” Armstrong said. “He’s trying to learn from each at-bat. He’s still playing and learning from every at-bat.”
That’s something that will happen at this year’s World Series in Fort Myers.
Armstrong has been playing in it since 2006 and still recalls his first one and the chance to play on good fields against good completion.
“It was awesome,” Armstrong said.
The World Series in the fall is something the A’s start talking about each year when their local league gets cranked up in the spring.
The A’s (Play Ball Academy A’s) are defending World Series Open Division champions – 2014 being their 6th Hobbs championship in Unlimited play – and always in the hunt. A lot of that is simply talent. Armstrong said every player on the team has college experience and a couple have played pro ball.
Armstrong played one year of independent ball for the Canton Crocodiles of the Frontier League in 1999.
He wasn’t a star but he was good enough to use his speed as a defensive substitute and pinch runner until he ran into a wall and injured an ankle. Fast? He stole 8 bases and was caught only once.
So, in another 16 years, Vukovich will be 70. And in 16 years, Armstrong will be 54, Vukovich’s current age. Armstrong plans to keep playing as long as possible.
“I’ll keep going,” Armstrong said. “Ross is my role model.”