Vinny Rottino’s ultimate reward for grinding out a professional baseball career the last 10 years just might be more than 6,000 miles away.
The latest — and most lucrative — in a long list of baseball destinations for the 1998 St. Catherine’s High School graduate is Japan. The 32-year-old Rottino signed a one-year contract Friday with the Orix Buffaloes, a Nippon Professional team in the Pacific League. The contract guarantees him $350,000 with the potential of another $100,000 in incentives.
Rottino is scheduled to meet with representatives of the Buffaloes Wednesday in Milwaukee. He plans to leave Jan. 21 for spring training in Osaka, Japan.
“I’m hoping it will lead to a career over there,” said Rottino, who signed with the Milwaukee Brewers as an undrafted free agent Feb. 3, 2003 after graduating from UW-La Crosse. “I’ll stay there, make some money, retire and then go coach baseball or something.”
Rottino played last season with the New York Mets and Cleveland Indians. He had a career-high 61 at-bats between the two teams, earning 78 service days and what Rottino said was about $250,000.
While waiting for the Indians to make a decision about his future following the season, Rottino received a call from Chicago-based agent Alan Nero, who has extensive connections in Japan.
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“He’s got a lot of inroads with scouts and general managers over there and not a lot of agents do,” Rottino said. “He called and said, ‘You’re at the top of the list for a team over in Japan. I cannot discuss it further unless I’m your agent.’ ”
When Rottino expressed loyalty to his Philadelphia-based agent, Rex Gary, Nero agreed to join forces with Gary.
But there was an unresolved issue. Unless Rottino was designated for assignment, he would remain property of the Indians and not be free to negotiate with the Buffaloes.
“If that team (in Japan) wanted me bad enough, they would have had to pay Cleveland an amount of money and that probably would have come off my salary,” Rottino said.
That became a moot point in November when the Indians informed Rottino they weren’t bringing him back. Rottino became a free agent and was able to negotiate with the Buffaloes.
“It was the first time in my life I actually wanted to be taken off a 40-man roster,” Rottino said.
Rottino said he received offers from the Brewers, Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs after the season, but his decision to head overseas was easy.
“I heard it’s awesome in Japan,” Rottino said. “Everyone’s so polite and it’s got a lot to offer, from what I hear.”