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Aces' Daulton Varsho forging own path while following in his father's footsteps

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - MARCH 10: Daulton Varsho #12 of the Arizona Diamondbacks runs to the dugout during the second inning of the MLB spring training game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Camelback Ranch on March 10, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Like father, like son. The Reno Aces' Daulton Varsho was introduced to professional baseball at and early age.

“Ever since I grew up, I just love being at the field,” said the Wisconsin native whose father, Gary, dedicated his life to the game. “Baseball was my love from when I grew up. Just being around those guys, even if I was in the minor leagues when I originally grew up or if I was in a big-league clubhouse, I knew that I wanted to play baseball and follow my father's footsteps. And it's just cool I'm able to do it and able to do it at the top level in the big leagues. So hopefully I can get back there and kind of be myself, and hopefully I can help the team win here in a couple of months.”

Gary Varsho played eight years in the majors before later becoming a bench coach, most notably with the Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates. While Gary was with Philadelphia, he coached players such as Jim Thome, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins.

“It was cool as a kid just being around them, knowing that I'm in a big-league clubhouse, but now thinking about it and watching them work and going through their daily things, I think that's what kind of helped me ease myself into pro baseball a little bit,” Varsho said. “I mean, Jim Thome, he's the best baseball player, best human being that you can ever meet in your life. He’s down to earth. Great, great human. And you find some grinders like Chase Utley, who plays the game hard no matter what. No matter who you are, he's going to do some things that are great for baseball.

"That lineup was ridiculously good and fun to watch, fun to be around. They took me in. Jim Thome flipped to me in the cage all the time, and they just always showed me some time and where there to just be my friend when I was up there and kind of fool around with me a little bit. So I loved growing up in a clubhouse. It taught me a lot of things in life and not just solely on the baseball field, but off the field, too.”

Thome is somebody Varsho still admires.

“When I did my pre-draft workout with the White Sox, Jim was there and I got to talk to him for like 30 minutes," he said. "And it was awesome. It was literally like I was still the same kid when I grew up, and it was just cool to see him, and he was just so proud of me.”

Daulton vs. Darren

From his blood to his name, Varsho carries baseball inside and out. Gary Varsho named his son after Darren Daulton, his father’s former teammate, to honor the bond and friendship they had while playing together.

“My dad came to the Phillies in '95," he said. "I want to say it was those last couple of years of playing, and Darren was kind of the leader for that team. And he was the one who kind of took my dad of under his wing at the end of his career, and knowing that he was going to be a big part of this team and he was a bench guy throughout his whole career and knowing that he had to come up for some big hits. Darren was just awesome for him. He and his wife and my mom both got close around that time and they just kind of respected him. And he was a respectful guy throughout the whole game. His leadership kind of took over for that Phillies group. And they wanted to do something special.”

Baseball challenges

After spending 2020 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Varsho was optioned to the Reno Aces this season. He remains one of the organization's top prospects, and a unique one at that considering he's a catcher/center fielder.

“It's definitely a letdown," Varsho said. "It's hard for any any player to go through those. I mean, it’s mixed emotions. You're mad and you're also kind of disappointed in yourself. But you know that it's all because it's a business thing. You have options. There's also a reason why you're getting sent down to go work on things. But you can take it as a negative thing. You can take it as a positive thing. And being able to have a chip on your shoulder and being able to do the right thing, to come to the field every day with a smile on your face and being able to have fun down here. And I think that's one of the coolest things here in Reno, is it's a winning baseball club here and it's a lot of fun. And you go to the field kind of stress free knowing that it doesn't matter who we're facing tonight, it's going to be a good game for us.”

Last season with the Diamondbacks, Varsho hit .188 in 101 at-bats over 37 games. He smacked three homers and had a .653 OPS. In 19 big-league games this year, Varsho was hitting .171 with a .471 OPS. At 24 years old, he still has some development ahead after proving himself in the minors where he's a career .300 hitter in 257 games.

Varsho said making his MLB debut last season was eye opening.

“It was a big experience for me to be able to kind of control the adrenaline and being able to understand how much stress goes into every big game and going over the scouting report, pitching and hitting wise and being able to control both those positions," Varsho said. "I think it's a tough thing for a young guy to come up, but I'm glad I got my feet wet a little bit and got some playing time out there. And I'm able to work on some things here. And hopefully next time I called back up, it will be for good.”

While Varsho rotates between catcher and outfielder, he envision himself behind the plate long term.

“I would love to be an every day catcher," the 5-foot-10, 207-pound Varsho said. "It’s been my love since I've grown up. Outfield is fun, but catching is my love.”

A household of women

Varsho grew up the youngest of three with two older sisters. Add a father who was always on the road and Daulton was surrounded by women who he leaned on to guide him through life.

“There was a lot of yelling in the household," Varsho said with a laugh. "I know that for sure. I mean, my mom took care of all three of us kids. Any person or any ballplayer knows that you've got to have a strong wife in this game because as you play or as you coach in this game, you're going to have to deal with the kids and everything. And I can't thank my mom enough for what she did for us. She pushed us to play different sports and do different things. And she's traveled with us everywhere.

"We started school at home and then went to spring training and then flew back home, finished school and then flew out to see my dad in Pennsylvania when he was with the Phillies. So being able to leave my dad all those times, I mean, it took a toll on all three of us kids. And my mom was always there for us when she had to take us to practice, take us to school and do all those things. So it was it was fun. We were a competitive household, and all three of us kids kind of stuck together. And it was a fun, fun experience. And I can only hope that my kids can do the same thing."

Through sickness and health

Varsho has another special woman in life, fiancé, Brook Dolezal, who he says has been his rock throughout his career.

“She's been there from day one,” Varsho said. “We grew up together. We didn't go to the same elementary school, but we went to high school together. And after senior year, we got together and she didn't expect me to get drafted ever. And she's been there every day, and I can't thank her enough. She's had a hard life herself. Her mom passed away from ALS, so it's kind of hard, but knowing that I have a platform that I can raise awareness about that is kind of the coolest thing. Knowing that we can do everything possible for those family members who are struggling with that because I know my life is stressful and those families are even more stressful, so I love that she was able to go through that and I was able to help her out through that. And we're kind of there for each other every step of the way.”

Aces lead the way

The Reno Aces are tied for first in the Triple-A West Division with a 22-13 record. The team's 276 runs scored are the most in all of Triple-A by a wide margin.

“I think it's just the camaraderie of knowing that it doesn't matter who it is in this lineup, they are always going to come up with a big hit,” Varsho said. “And I think that just shows how close of a group we are, even though most of us haven't been here all year and it's been an interchangeable team. So it's just knowing that we're going to come out with our best and it doesn't matter who it is, we're always going to come up big in the end. And if we lose, we're still going to have fun. And if we win, we're going to have a lot more fun.”

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