Anthony Vega traded a graduation cap for a baseball bat, and he couldn’t be happier about it. A week after graduation from the University of Arizona with a degree in electrical and computer engineering, the Patchogue native returned to Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip on Friday, eager to start his fourth season with the Ducks, albeit a month late.
Vega left the Ducks last August to finish his degree. As part of the deal he signed with the Baltimore Orioles in 2012, Vega needed to resume his schooling within two years of his release, forcing him to leave the Ducks one month into the second half.
Thanks to some understanding professors and a promise to keep up on his homework, Vega was allowed to join the Ducks for their nine-day playoff run in September. Now, degree in hand, Vega is back in black and orange.
“The Ducks have been great to me in this whole process of getting my degree and continuing to play baseball,” said Vega, 26. “I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity.”
Vega hit .245 with three home runs, 19 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 57 games last season. The outfielder hit .235 with a home run, two RBIs and six walks in six playoff games (17 at-bats).
“We’re excited to have him back,” Ducks president and general manager Michael Pfaff said. “He’s a spark plug. He’s a guy that leads by example. He hits a ground ball to shortstop and the track meet starts. He’s a guy that gives 100 percent every single second that he’s on that field, and that’s a pleasure to watch.”
While in Arizona, Vega kept his baseball skills sharp by coaching with a youth organization — the Tucson Champs — giving lessons and lifting weights.
Vega also worked out with former Angels and Padres third baseman George Arias, who helped him fine-tune his swing.
“A lot of times in my career, I’ve had a bunch of swings and misses,” Vega said. “Strikeouts have been a problem. So I just worked on staying connected and making sure my hands aren’t coming away from my body.”
The swing change looks as if it’s already paying off. Despite not playing in a game since late September, Vega appeared to be in midseason form during his season debut Friday night. He went 2-for-3 with a walk in a 15-6 loss to the New Britain Bees.
“I felt good today,” Vega said. “About the second or third inning, I felt like I hadn’t taken a break.”
Vega might be the jolt of energy the Ducks need. Friday night’s loss was their third straight and dropped them below .500. The Ducks were 3-7 in their last 10 games entering Saturday night’s 7-5 victory over New Britain.
Ducks manager Kevin Baez chalked it up to the age-old baseball problem of inconsistency. When the Ducks hit, they don’t pitch well. And when they pitch well, the bats go cold.
“I think it’s just some guys not playing to their potential,” Baez said. “The potential is there and the talent is there. I have to do a better job and everybody has to do a better job.”
Francisco Rodriguez’s blown save May 23 appears to have been only a blip on the radar. Before striking out the side in the ninth and picking up his sixth save Saturday night, he pitched two scoreless innings last week, earning his fifth save in a 1-0 win over Sugar Land on Tuesday. Before Saturday, the former Met was 1-0 with a 1.12 ERA in eight appearances as a Duck. He had allowed five hits, walked two and struck out six in eight innings.