Interview: Vance Worley of the Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies breakout rookie discusses footwear and life in the MLB.

words & interview // Brennan Hiro Williams

Chilling ocean air, ominous waves of fog creeping across the upper deck, and the electric buzz of 41,915 fans hungry for glory. Familiar stimuli on a Friday night at AT&T Park, home of the 2010 World Champion San Francisco Giants. It's August 5, and the Giants are hosting the Philadelphia Phillies, fresh from the fervor of the trade deadline and in the throws of another pennant race. Phillies breakout rookie Vance Worley, more affectionately known by Phillies fans as the Vanimal, paces behind the mound, 90 miles from his childhood home in Sacramento, California.

A man on third. Two outs. Full count. Carlos Beltran, a six-time All-Star that Worley watched on Sportscenter growing up, digs back into the box. The crowd bellows from all sides, trying to knock Worley off kilter as he receives the sign from catcher Brian Schneider and comes set in his delivery. He unleashes a perfect two-seam fastball, tailing untouched into Schneider's glove on the inside corner. Beltran is frozen. The crowd falls silent. Umpire Mike Muchlinski steps back and emphatically punches the air. Strike three.

What sounds like the geometry class daydream of any young baseball player became a reality for Vance Worley in 2011, thrust into the fifth starter role in a celebrated Phillies staff that included four of the best pitchers in the game - Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt. With his signature mohawk, Oakley spectacles and aggressive style, Worley is fast becoming a fan favorite in sports-crazed Philadelphia. At the time of this writing, his twitter account (@Vanimal_49) has over 32,400 followers, in addition to at least 20 fan-made Facebook pages dedicated to things like "Vance Worley's Glasses" and "Vance Worley's Sweaty Hat." His late season streak of 12 straight starts resulting in a Phillies win, the longest such streak by a Phillies pitcher since Hall of Fame member Steve Carlton in 1972, thrust Worley into the discussion for National League Rookie of the Year. While Philadelphia's World Series dreams were dashed in the opening round of the postseason, Worley, with his 11-3 record and 3.01 ERA, gives the team renewed optimism for 2012.


A product of Long Beach State and C.K. McClatchy High School, the Californian is a quiet, unassuming and polite 24-year-old off the field. Like many young men his age, he enjoys several hobbies including video games, American muscle cars, and most notably, collecting a large amount of sneakers. From Jordan to Air Max, and a unique arsenal of vintage cleats, his collection is several hundred pairs deep and growing. I recently caught up with Vance to discuss footwear and life in the MLB.


Brennan Hiro Williams: What was it like adjusting to life in the Majors this year? I know you keep a low profile.


Vance Worley: For me, there was not much of an adjustment. I stay out of the spotlight and stay focused on my job. I go home after games, get my rest, and head to the field early the next day to start my workouts and get my running in. I like to stay on schedule and on routine - I like to think that I've adopted some of Roy "Doc" Halladay's work habits.


BHW: What are your thoughts on the Phillies playoff run? While disappointing, I'm sure it was quite an experience.


Vance: I definitely enjoyed making the playoffs, and I definitely did not enjoy getting knocked out. As far as the experience, the fans were booming louder than I have ever heard in a stadium. I have to say, the adage that "legends are born in October" is a true statement! I'm going to work hard and get back at it for next season.


BHW: On to the toughest question of all: why do you collect shoes?


Vance: I collect shoes because I am an athlete, who grew up playing baseball and basketball. I always wanted the best shoes to play in, and over time, I started buying more than I needed...doubles of shoes to train in, wear casually, or even to save for the future, so when nobody has them anymore I can bust them out again. Certain styles stick out to me. To this day, if I want a pair bad enough, I'll buy them even if they sit in a box.


BHW: It looks like you've added a lot of shoes to your collection this year. What are your current favorite brands and styles?


Vance: I have always been a huge Nike and Jordan fan. I am really trying to pick up where I left off with my Jordan collection. I have about 100 pairs of them now. 


BHW: What are your go-to shoes during the season, off the field?


Vance: My off field kicks this season consisted mainly of the Nike Air Max+ 2011 and some Prison Issue Vans. It's tough because, with our professional dress attire standards, I can't quite wear the sneakers I like during the season.


BHW: Do you have a favorite source for buying shoes?
Vance: I made friends with some of the managers of shops out in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and they have been able to help accomodate my work schedule if I can't pick up shoes on release dates. Otherwise, I pick them up online. I picked up about 85 pairs this season, most of which I shipped home to California. 


BHW: How are you able to keep up with all of the releases during the season? Sole Collector, perhaps?
Vance: [laughs] I check Sole Collector daily now that I have a Twitter account. I follow all of the tweets. I followed SC when I first got into the sneaker game years ago, but with the last couple of years picking up more shoes, I have been following more than ever. Trying to stay up on my game.
BHW: Do any of your teammates collect shoes, too? Are you the most prolific sneakerhead on the team? 
Vance: Jimmy Rollins, Ben Francisco, Kyle Kendrick and Ali Modami, our batting practice coach, are all into shoes as well. The only one that really has heat, after me, is Benny Fresh (Francisco). I'm pretty sure I shocked him when I showed him my collection, though!
BHW: On the field, it seems that, with the exception of some Mizuno and adidas here and there, you have played in Nike for most of your life...
Vance: I have always been a Nike fan. Personally, I think that they make the best performance wear, especially when it comes to cleats and turf shoes.
BHW: A few people online have pointed out your affinity for older, classic Nike cleats...
Vance: Yeah, some of the guys think I am crazy because I somehow find ways to pick up OG Nike cleats from the 1990s and early 2000s. Some of my favorites are the K-Lo's aka the Nike Air Zoom Diamond (Kenny Lofton's signature cleat), Cooperstown I, Cooperstown III, Zoom Flash SP, and the 40/40 SP. I haven't worn quite as much of Nike's new stuff, only because I love the old spikes so much. Hopefully, one day, I can work with Nike and provide some input on a spike or turf shoe.
BHW: You told me before that Nike Baseball really sparked your love for collecting shoes. Was there one shoe in particular that did it for you?
Vance: The shoe that got the craze going for me was the Nike Air Diamond Fury 2. I remember watching Barry Larkin in them. My parents bought them for me when I was in the 3rd grade, and I wore them until the soles were gone. Somehow, in July, I found a deadstock pair on eBay. You better believe I bought them!
Additional photos via Y! Sports