By Gavin Menu
Colman Vila will be hard-pressed to improve on his individual statistics from last year. Pierson’s lefty ace led the Whalers baseball team to a Long Island Championship last spring and finished with a perfect 10-0 record as a starter.
But the improvements, if not measured by another perfect record, should come in the form of a more dominant pitcher, with an improved changeup and fastball. Vila trained for the month of February with Neal Heaton, a former left-handed pitcher and Major League All-Star who played for seven teams, including the New York Yankees, from 1982-1993. Heaton today teaches with Paul Gibson’s All Pro Baseball Academy in Bellport, and works with players like Vila as they work their baseball careers to the next level.
“I always throw a couple weeks in advance of the season just to get my arm ready, and he was always teaching right next to me,” Vila said on Tuesday as he and his teammates prepared for an outdoor practice at Mashashimuet Park. “He said he had been watching me pitch and wanted to work with me.”
When reached by phone on Wednesday, Heaton said he noticed something special while watching Vila.
“I always liked the way he threw, a nice smooth arm action and a very good delivery,” Heaton said. “He has explosive kind of stuff for a small-framed kid and I think he could be very good in college. He’s a quiet kid but he does most of his talking on the mound.”
Vila said his improved changeup now approaches batters in the low 70 mile-per-hour range, and his fastball routinely clocks in around 82. He credited even more of his improvement and consistency to the work he put in with Heaton over the last month in particular.
“Neal has been watching Colman for eight years,” Benito Vila, Colman’s father and an assistant coach on the Pierson baseball team, said this week. “And when a former Major Leaguer says he wants to work with you, it’s hard to say no.”
Heaton on Wednesday said he was instantly impressed with Vila’s pitching mechanics and with his mental approach to the game. Vila is currently weighing college options for next year, with both the University of Delaware, a Division I school, and the University of Gettysburg interested in him for baseball. And now Heaton has come on to the scene, helping obtain interest from Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, which would provide a more year-round atmosphere for baseball.
“The biggest thing with Colman is strength, and once he gets into a good weight-training program, he’s going to get to the next level,” Heaton said. “I usually work with all the top kids on Long Island, but I do not charge anything for helping with college. I pride myself in helping them get into college.”
Vila, whose goal this season is to lead the Whalers to another Long Island Championship, and even a state title, said he will make a decision this spring in regard to college based on both academics and baseball.
“Number one is choosing a school that fits me academically,” said Vila, who was also accepted to Loyola Marymount University, his top choice for academics, where he could attempt to play baseball as a walk-on. “Number two will be picking a place where I have an opportunity to play. With Loyola, I have a great second option.”
And now with Heaton, he has a great advocate as well.