Early in the morning on Jan. 21, Vinny Rottino will be sitting at a gate at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, waiting to board his flight. By the end of the day, Rottino will be about 6,300 miles away in Orix, Japan, getting set up in an apartment.
Early in the morning on Feb. 16, Craig McClelland will bid his parents goodbye at their Union Grove home, get into his fully-packed 2006 Chevy Malibu and make a 930-mile drive to St. Angelo, Texas.
There will be contrasting circumstances for Rottino and McClelland as they make their respective journeys. For one, Rottino will be making a guaranteed $350,000 with a potential $100,000 more in incentives playing baseball for the Orix Buffaloes of the Nippon Professional League in Japan.
As for McClelland, the rookie sensation quarterback for the BCS national champion Racine Raiders last season, he will be playing for the St. Angelo Bandits of the five-team Lone Star Football League, where the pay averages about $165 per game.
And, yet, there is a common denominator between the two: Both are traveling long distances for extended stays in an effort to pursue dreams.
For Rottino, who turns 33 April 7, he hopes to extend a professional career that started 10 years ago Feb. 3 when he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Milwaukee Brewers. The upside is he will likely be playing regularly and could set himself up financially for the rest of his life by making a name for himself in Japan.
“I’d like to have a great year over there, possibly get signed back and continue to play there — start a career over there,” said Rottino, a 1998 St. Catherine’s High School graduate and UW-La Crosse All-American who had major-league stops with the Brewers, Florida Marlins, New York Mets and Cleveland Indians. “And when all is said and done and my baseball career is over, I will then go on to the next chapter of my life.”
For the time being, Rottino plans to scratch an itch that simply won’t subside even after 10 grueling seasons. Projected as a third baseman and outfielder, Rottino so impressed his new team that representatives of the organization met with him in Milwaukee in December.
Among those on hand was Greg LaRocca, the team’s head scout who counseled Rottino on some of the differences he will see in Japan.
“Like the pitchers over there are going to try and mess with your timing,” Rottino said. “They’ll throw quick and then they’ll throw a nice slow curveball.”
“They’re going to try and keep you off balance.”
The 24-year-old McClelland, a 2007 Union Grove graduate, will be making adjustments of his own from a football perspective as he tries to promote himself for bigger and better things.
With the blessing of Union Grove principal Al Mollerskov, McClelland is taking a leave of absence from his teacher’s aid position at the school until the fall to tempt fate in football. McClelland understands that Arena League success stories the likes of Kurt Warner are almost as rare as winning the Powerball, but McClelland also realizes that he only gets to be this young once.
“If something were to happen, it would be the coolest thing ever,” said McClelland, who passed for 2,883 yards and 51 touchdowns for the 15-1 Raiders last season. “I couldn’t imagine something cooler happening, but I just don’t want to be sitting here later in my life and be thinking about what would have happened if I would have gone down to St. Angelo, Texas.
“Who would have maybe saw me and maybe took a chance? So for me, it’s all about not living with regret.”
McClelland will be put up in modest living quarters with two meals a day by the Bandits. But he will also be playing for Chris Simpson, coach and director of football operations for the Bandits, who has connections for players who produce.
And Simpson has seen and read enough of McClelland via the Internet to believe McClelland has a chance to get a look from someone.
“I just look at this kid and think, ‘There’s a raw talent there and if he can get in this league and get development, there’s some good opportunities ahead for him,’ ” Simpson said.
McClelland won’t be due back in Wisconsin until early July, but Raiders fans can relax.
“I’m definitely coming back — unless something crazy were to happen,” McClelland said.
Peter Jackel is a reporter for The Journal Times. You can reach Peter at (262) 631-1703 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org