Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
Sitting in Vimael Machin’s suitcase is a baseball. To Machin, the ball is more than the cowhide leather and red string — it resembles a dream come true.
After making his MLB debut on July 26 with the Oakland Athletics, Machin logged his first career hit at the big-league level after nine at-bats. It took longer than he expected, but it was a relief it finally happened.
“I was not nervous, it was just more anxious about getting that first knock,” Machin said. “It’s frustrating because you want to get that first hit out of the way and I was having good at-bats, but the ball didn’t drop.”
Once Machin reached first base, he told himself, “I got the hardest one out of the way, here we go now.” The former VCU infielder said his friends, family and coaches helped keep him positive during his early career struggles.
VCU baseball isn’t a stranger to middle infielders moving on to the professional ranks. In the last five years, four middle infielders have moved on to minor league baseball. Machin was the first in 2015.
“Each one of those guys have come in, worked very, very hard, been very consistent in their work,” coach Shawn Stiffler said. “I think on top of it, you get the culture of giving back and each one of those guys gave back to the guy below him and helped him raise his game up.”
Machin was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 10th round in 2015 and was taken in the Rule 5 draft this year by the Athletics. The 5-foot-11-inch, 26-year-old played shortstop in Richmond, but played predominantly second base in the minor leagues.
Matt Davis, who spent three years at VCU and played all four infield positions, was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016. Shortstop Zac Ching was drafted in the 10th round of the 2019 MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers and most recently, second baseman Paul Witt signed with the Washington Nationals on July 31.
Stiffler said for the younger players, watching their teammates moving onto the professional ranks shows them it’s possible to work toward their goal of playing professionally.
After two weeks of spring training, COVID-19 forced the MLB to shut it down. Machin, a Humacao, Puerto Rico, native, flew back home to train.
He said it felt like a routine offseason, working out at the same weight room and batting cages he normally does in the winter.
“It was weird at the same time because I was always telling my family, ‘oh, wow I’m never home at this time of the year,’” Machin said. “I guess it was bad because of the virus, but at the same time it was good because I could keep getting better and better. I was not complaining at all.”
The MLB resumed spring training on July 3, but this time at each team’s home stadium. For Machin, that meant he was one step closer to his dream of playing in the major leagues.
When spring training reopened, teams had to follow the MLB’s COVID-19 protocols, including wearing masks on the field.
“At first it was weird, it took me a week or so to get used to it,” Machin said. “It is what it is, it’s our job and at least we’re playing baseball.”
While in San Francisco for a simulated game at the San Francisco Giants stadium, Machin’s dream came true. He was walking to the dugout when he was stopped near the locker room by the Athletics’ manager, Bob Melvin.
Machin said Melvin approached him and told him he made the major league team.
“When he told me that, I didn’t know what to say. I was just like ‘oh, wow, cool’ It was a cool moment,” Machin said.
The night before his debut, Machin couldn’t sleep. He was thinking about his first career start all night and had to tell himself it wasn’t a dream.
When he woke up, Machin went through his normal morning routine at home: eating breakfast, his cup of coffee and a shower. He tried to keep it as normal as he could before he stepped into the batter’s box as a designated hitter.
Just before his at-bat, Machin collected himself and reflected on what it took to get to the big leagues.
“When I was on deck, I was just talking to myself like ‘you’ve been through a lot, you worked hard your whole life for this moment. Just have fun with it and just work hard and control the things you can control,’” Machin said.
He went 0-for-3 that night against the Angels, but for Machin, walking into the clubhouse each day is a “blessing.”
“Everytime I walk in there, I just thank God for the opportunity to play the sport I love,” Machin said. “It’s more of thanking God and not thinking ‘oh, I’m here.’ He’s the one who’s giving me this blessing that I’ve always dreamed about.”