Former MLB Player Joey Vandever Talks Passion For Sports & Life in Hendricks County
Photographer: Amy Payne
Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, Joey Vandever came from a close family with two older brothers who were both athletic. All three boys loved passing the time playing football and baseball. As a kid, Vandever gravitated more towards football as he was attracted to the physical nature of the sport. Though he had scholarship opportunities to play football at a number of universities, when he graduated high school, he stood just 5´10ʺ and weighed 150 pounds.
“I remember my dad looked at me and said bluntly, ‘Dude, I don’t know that you’re cut out for football,’” recalls Vandever with a chuckle. He visited Ohio, Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern, contemplating his options before ultimately choosing to attend junior college for two years, then later transferring to the University of Evansville for two more years. During his freshman year of college, Vandever began focusing on baseball. Ironically, that same year he grew four inches and put on 40 pounds. Though the growth spurt and weight gain made him better equipped, physically, to play football, he stuck with baseball, and it paid off. During his senior year, he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals.
“It was pretty fulfilling not only as a player but also for my family because I was the first to graduate college and go on to play professional ball,” Vandever says.
What many people don’t understand, however, is the arduous drafting process in Major League Baseball.
“When you get drafted by the NFL, you’ve made it,” Vandever says. “There is no minor league system. With baseball, though, it’s a grind all the way up until you make it into the Majors.”
He’s not exaggerating. Minor league athletes play 160-plus games each year, and the travel is exhausting.
“We would be at the ballpark from 9 a.m. until midnight, then jump on a bus, take a 10-hour road trip to our next destination, and do it all over again,” Vandever says. “If you don’t have a strong work ethic, if you don’t have a drive or passion or love for the game, you’ll get swallowed up pretty quickly.”
People say to Vandever all the time, “Wow! You played pro baseball! That had to be a blast!” In many ways, it was, however they don’t recognize how the grueling schedule can take a toll on one’s health. During his rookie year, for instance, Vandever dropped a whopping 45 pounds due to the intense heat, crazy hours, exhausting workouts, demanding drills and sheer number of games.
“It’s hard on the system,” Vandever says. “It’s easy to get homesick, too, living out of a suitcase.”
“The issue with injuries is that you have to play through them because if you sit out, another guy may come along and shine. Then you may be out for good,” Vandever says.
Nevertheless, he insists that his pro baseball experience prepared him for the rigors of life. The long days he endured and adversity he faced instilled an amazing work ethic.
“That’s probably why I don’t think anything of working late these days to get the job done,” he says. “It’s what I’m used to.”
After six seasons of playing for the Cardinals, Vandever chose to hang it up and start a life of his own. He married Sarah and started a family. They have three boys: Cannon (13), Carson, (10) and Caleb (8). Though he doesn’t miss living in hotels and maintaining a harried schedule, he does miss the camaraderie of his teammates and playing the game.
“I also wish that my kids had gotten to see me play,” he says.
Following his baseball career, Vandever transitioned into the mortgage industry, briefly co-owning a company with one of his brothers. Next, he worked for a medical distribution company that distributed bracing, pharmaceutical, soft goods and other medical supplies to high school, collegiate and pro sports teams. Though that career was a better fit for him, he still yearned for something more.
In 2012, Vandever, who has a degree in business management, met former Colts player Jim Sorgi when Sorgi was in transition from the New York Giants. They got to talking and realized they shared many of the same interests, not to mention a pro sports background. In 2013, they decided to combine their resources and become co-owners of Sorgi Sports, which provides physical therapy and skills improvement equipment to the general public at an affordable price.
In late 2018, the pair also launched a new business venture that’s part of Sorgi Sports called ProTeam Tactical Performance. In partnership with the Indianapolis Fire Department (IFD), they provide all triage, rehab and recovery for IFD as part of IFD’s new health and wellness initiative.
“This means that an injured firefighter would report to our facility, see one of our athletic trainers — either Ned Shannon or Anna Foster — and if we can treat them, we keep them in-house and provide them our athletic training services,” Vandever says.
Sorgi Sports plays a vital part in supplying the firefighters with innovative, state-of-the-art equipment that’s needed for take-home, recovery purposes, or for pain, swelling and mobility. They’ve also partnered with Ortho Indy to provide other orthopedic services such as surgeries, diagnostics, imaging and testing.
Being former pro athletes, Vandever and Sorgi understand the importance of getting healthy as expeditiously as possible in order to return to the job at hand.
“We view firefighters as tactical athletes, which is why we’re committed to getting them healthy by creating an efficient process of daily rehab rather than, say, two times a week for 12 weeks,” Vandever says. “Firefighters are just like athletes. They don’t want to be home on the couch. They want to be at the station doing their thing. These guys have a love and passion for what they do.”
Like Vandever and his brothers, Vandever’s three sons love sports as well —particularly basketball, football, wrestling, baseball and lacrosse. When sports aren’t taking up their time, Vandever takes the crew hunting, fishing, four-wheeling and dirt biking riding.
“We’re always outdoors, often in southeast Indiana where we own some land,” says Vandever, an Avon resident who appreciates all of the great connections he’s made through school, sports, work and activities.
“I love what this community is all about,” he says.
With his suitcase-living days behind him, Vandever feels right at home in Hendricks County.