Class of 1998
Major: Athletic Training
Bluefield College alumnus and former BC baseball player Mark Vinson has made his way to The Big Show*. While Vinson’s playing days on the diamond are over, his dream of making it to Major League Baseball is not, thanks to his career as an athletic trainer and his recent promotion to assistant athletic trainer for the Tampa Bay Rays.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in athletic training and completing a stellar playing career for the Rams in 1998, Vinson went on to earn a master's degree in athletic training from the University of Virginia.
He landed his first job in professional baseball in 2001, beginning like all rookies in the Minor Leagues with the Pulaski (VA) Rangers, a rookie affiliate of the Texas Rangers in the Appalachian League, a league where the Bluefield Blue Jays (for merly Orioles) also compete.
After two seasons back in the Appalachian Mountains as head athletic trainer for the Pulaski Rangers, Vinson earned a promotion to head athletic trainer for the Rangers’ Class A affiliate in Stockton, California. He jumped out of baseball in 2004 to answer a call to serve his alma mater. Vinson came back to Bluefield to become the head athletic trainer for Bluefield College.
“I came home and took the job at Bluefield on an interim basis until (Coach) Tommy Brown and my wife (Mary Clements, a 1999 BC graduate) convinced me to stay,” said Vinson, who has been a certified athletic trainer (ATC) since 1998. “I worked at Bluefield until February 2006 when I took a position with the Tampa Bay Rays.”
Vinson went back to baseball as the athletic trainer for Tampa Bay’s Class AA affiliate in Montgomery, Alabama. After just one season in Montgomery, he earned a promotion to the Rays’ Class AAA affiliate, the well-known Durham Bulls in Durham, North Carolina, made famous in 1998 in the movie Bull Durham, which starred Kevin Costner.
In 2008, the Rays named Vinson Minor League medical coordinator, giving him the responsibility of overseeing all of the organization’s Minor League athletic trainers and the rehabilitation of all its Minor League players. A student who came to Bluefield College from Pearisburg, Virginia, originally to play sports, he said his experiences both in the classroom and on the field prepared him not only to compete, but also to excel academically and professionally.
“My experiences at Bluefield were vital to my professional career,” said Vinson, who is also a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS). “While a student at BC, I received hands-on experience and had responsibilities that I probably would not have had at a larger school. I was confident when I graduated that I was capable of going to a large university and completing a graduate degree alongside other students from around the country. The faculty and staff at Bluefield College truly care and want to see students excel.”
In December 2010, Vinson got his break, the call he had dreamed of since a kid. When one of the two assistant athletic trainers for the Tampa Bay Rays decidedto become head athletic trainer for the Oakland A’s, a spot in The Show became available, and the Rays called on Vinson to fill the role.
“Making it to the Major League level is certainly a dream come true,” said Vinson. “I make a conscience effort to not take it for granted and realize that I’ve been very blessed. It would be easy to complain about the schedule and travel -- playing 162 games in 180 days, plus six weeks of Spring Training -- but in the end, this was something that I aspired to do, and there are plenty of Minor League athletic trainers that would love to trade places, if given the opportunity.”
Now as assistant athletic trainer for Tampa Bay, Vinson begins his ninth season with the Rays organization. In addition to the satisfaction of reaching the highest level in professional baseball, he says the friendships he has formed among players and co-workers are equally rewarding, not to mention the places he’s been able to visit and the people he’s been able to meet.
“The camaraderie with co-workers, coaches and players is what makes this such an enjoyable job,” said Vinson, who has been fortunate to be a part of two playoff experiences in the past three seasons with the Rays. “We all share in a common goal of helping this organization win a World Series.”
While making it to The Big Show is certainly a dream come true, Vinson said he would definitely like to be a head athletic trainer in the Major Leagues some day. But for now, he added, he’ll just live in the present and enjoy the job he already has.
“If that (becoming an MLB head athletic trainer) happens, then great,” said Vinson, “but I try not to be so focused on the future that you forget to enjoy the present.”
Vinson’s wife, Mary Clements, a 1999 BC graduate, is making her alma mater equally proud. After completing an All-American car eer in volleyball for the Lady Rams and earning a biology/pre-med degree from Bluefield College, Mary secured a master’s degree from Louisiana State University and then became a member of the first graduating class of the Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
After that, she completed a five-year residency in general surgery at West Virginia University in June of 2013 and started a two-year fellowship in
cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Mississippi’s Medical Center.
“I am extremely proud of everything Mary has accomplished,” said Vinson. “People think my job is neat, but she literally saves lives on a daily basis. She has been involved in some really impressive cases, including heart and lung transplants. It has been such a long process with our two careers, but we are both supportive of each other and have faith that we have each been called to our particular field.”
*The Show (noun): Baseball jargon, particularly among Minor League Baseball players, for the Major Leagues or Major League Baseball, the highest level attainable in professional baseball. The Bigs. The Big Show. Welcome to The Show, Kid.