Sunshine glowed across the freshly cut outfield grass, birds sang in the trees and kids laughed and screamed as they played tag in the background. The stage was set for the perfect Saturday at the Mark West Little League ballpark in Santa Rosa, California.
A rosy-cheeked, 6-year-old Andrew Vaughn toddled to the plate. Remembering the results of his previous at-bats, the opposing defenders backed up and prayed he wouldn’t hit the ball their way.
But as Andrew stepped into the batter’s box, something was different: He was on the wrong side of the plate.
“My dad let me hit left-handed because I had hit a couple of home runs in the game earlier right-handed,” Andrew says. “I wasn’t a switch-hitter, but he was like, ‘Just do it, why not?’ ”
Calm and collected, Andrew tapped his bat on the plate, dug his cleats into the dirt and readied himself for his first at-bat as a lefty. His father and coach-pitcher, Toby, went into his windup and let the ball sail toward the catcher’s mitt.
As the pitch hurtled his way, Andrew loaded up, turned his hips and got the barrel of his bat on the ball.
The ball launched off the bat, and as it ascended into the springtime air, the members of the crowd ascended to their feet and watched in awe.
Going. Going. Gone.
This one was out, and there was no doubt about it.
Andrew dropped his bat and sprinted out of the batter’s box wearing a grin that stretched from cheek to cheek. Toby smiled on the pitcher’s mound and Andrew’s mother, Diana, and sister, Madison, cheered from the bleachers as they watched Andrew circle the bases and cross home plate.
“He loved it, you know,” Toby says. “He just wanted to play baseball. He had it in him. That’s what I think. He wasn’t raised to play — he just loved it.”
Andrew’s talent as a baseball player was revealed from the time he stepped on the diamond as a T-baller, and he always played with kids who were at least a couple of years older than he was.
He could have certainly relied on his natural abilities to keep him leaps and bounds ahead of his competition, but he instead chose to employ a regimen consisting of hard work and dedication to better himself each day.
“Even as a freshman, juniors and seniors looked up to him and the way he played because he was on varsity as a freshman,” explained Sam Bruno, Andrew’s high school baseball coach. “And it wasn’t just his on-the-field performances. It’s how approachable and helpful he is off the field, too.”
While Andrew’s kindness and humility gained him a favorable reputation among those around him, his performance on the field afforded him a growing recognition among scouts across college baseball.
After an incredible freshman season in high school, he was given an offer he couldn’t refuse and committed to play first base for the California Golden Bears.
“It was kind of a dream school growing up,” Andrew says. “I mean, I got to come here on all the field trips in middle school, high school, came to baseball games, football games. I just fell in love with it. When I started getting recruited here, I just kind of knew.”
As Andrew transitioned into collegiate ball, he carried with him the dedication that had propelled him to success throughout his entire playing career, and he was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.
After a historic sophomore campaign, his hard work was rewarded on the ultimate stage as he was declared the winner of the 2018 Golden Spikes Award — an annual honor bestowed upon the finest amateur baseball player in the United States.
Despite the accomplishments that decorate his resume, Andrew has never let any of his success inflate his ego or compromise his character.
“He’s not a stuck-up athlete that just thinks he’s better than everybody,” Bruno says. “He is just more than willing to give back and help. You couldn’t even tell he won the Golden Spikes Award. He doesn’t brag at all, doesn’t brag about any of his accomplishments.”
Andrew’s humility is a value that was instilled in him by his parents as a young boy. Through his development as a young man and as a player, he has never lost touch with that fundamental value that defines his character.
“He knows if his head gets too big, his mother will knock him back down,” Diana says, laughing. “And it’s true, because I always want him to remember where he came from.”
Through his actions off the diamond, Andrew has repeatedly shown that he remembers his roots and is mindful of those who helped him reach this stage of his life.
“He gives back to the community,” Bruno says. “He’s always more than willing to share some of his time, to help his peers, to help kids that are a lot younger than him. He was over here helping after the fires. He was helping out kids, giving back and doing anything he can. He’s a class act.”
If you ask anyone who knows Andrew, they will tell you there is nothing he holds closer to his heart than his family.
If you ask Andrew, he would take this claim a step further and explain to you that his family is responsible for shaping him into the man he is today.
“My dad’s just such a great man,” Andrew says. “Just came home every day wanting to help me get better at baseball, and I can’t thank him enough for that. And my mom just being such a strong-willed person gives me that drive to get on with it every day and just get better.”
While Andrew has his father to thank for his talents and abilities, it is his mother who instilled in him the strength that allows him to overcome any challenges he faces in life.
When he and Madison were just 2 and 1, respectively, their mother was diagnosed with Graves’ disease and underwent a surgery to correct abnormalities in her thyroid.
“From that, he’s seen me overcome a lot of things,” Diana says. “They’ve had to call the ambulance a couple times when my calcium’s gotten low. And you shouldn’t have to put a kid through that. But they did. They’re strong.”
Andrew says seeing his mother persevere motivates him to push through any obstacles he faces in his daily life.
“I just think if I get banged up a little bit, it’s not the end of the world,” Andrew explained. “I’ve just got to get back out there and get on it because if she can do it, I can do it.”
Through every experience the members of the Vaughn family have shared, both good and bad, they have formed an unbreakable bond and consider themselves as tight a unit as can be. For Andrew, any time spent with his family is time well spent.
“If I can go home and spend a day on the couch with my mom and dad or my sister, I do that,” Andrew says.
The Vaughns are incredibly fond of exploration, and the family will seldom pass up an opportunity to find a campground and enjoy the great outdoors. Of all the outdoorsy activities Andrew enjoys, his absolute favorite is fishing.
“If he wasn’t a ballplayer, in his off time he would be a fishing guide or just a fisherman,” Diana says. “And that has served Andrew very well in playing baseball and in the batter’s box. Because he’s patient and knows when to wait for that right pitch. He’s very patient and doesn’t chase.”
Although the majority of the attention he draws is because of his excellence on the diamond, Andrew’s talent as a baseball player is nowhere near the defining attribute of his being.
When asked what makes them proud to be Andrew’s parents, Toby and Diana wasted no time telling their favorite characteristics of their son.
“Just who he is,” Toby says. “The way carries himself, the way he treats other people. We’ve always said, ‘Treat others the way you want to be treated and just go that extra mile. Be a good person. Just give back to what you’ve been given.’ ”
“There’s many,” Diana begins. “He’s humble, he’s strong, he’s a hard worker, he’s honest. He sets goals for himself and he reaches them, and he doesn’t stop until he reaches them.”
To Andrew and his parents, it is of the utmost importance that he is associated with the traits that define him off the field rather than those on the field.
“I’m a big family guy,” Andrew says. “I have a lot of people close to me, and I like making people happy. It makes me happy. I just like being there for others and being a good character.”
Andrew Vaughn isn’t the type to flash what he’s accomplished, but his credentials shine bright enough to draw attention on their own.
He is best known for his dazzling play at first base for the Golden Bears, and his performance in that role has earned him a pair of Golden Spikes.
But as impressive as these accomplishments may be, neither shines quite as bright as his golden heart.
Joey Patton covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].