Coleman Jr. trying to follow in dad's footsteps

Coleman Jr. trying to follow in dad's footsteps

HOUSTON -- The name enters the room before he does, imposing its own expectation on the path he'll inevitably follow. Vince Coleman Jr., son of former big-leaguer Vince Coleman, could have fought that gravitational pull, but instead he chose to fulfill two family dreams at the same time.

The younger Coleman, playing through his senior season for Southern University, defies the easy stereotypes. He's a speedster like his dad, but he's also somewhat of a baseball novice, an athlete who spent time playing everything else before finally settling on the national pasttime.

Coleman Jr., who started his college path at the University of Arizona, has finally found his comfort zone at Southern, where all six of his grandmother's children graduated. Coleman hopes to be the next on that list, and after that, he'd like to try following in his father's famous cleats.

"It's what I was born to do, but I was glad my dad didn't force me to play it," said Coleman Jr., who didn't start in Friday's opening day of the Urban Invitational. "I played everything from baseball to football, hockey to snowboarding. I love the cold, but I can't play baseball in the cold."

It's hardly been a straight line to stardom for Coleman, who was born in 1988 and attended his first big-league ballgame when he was just two weeks old. The youngster originally planned to be a walk-on at running back for the University of Arizona, but eventually decided that wasn't for him.

Coleman went away for his freshman year weighing just 175 pounds and said he put on 65 pounds from working out and eating a lot. He went back to baseball the next summer at 210 pounds, a weight he's settled at for the last three years.

Coleman Sr., a two-time All-Star and former Rookie of the Year who ranks seventh on the all-time stolen base charts, played 40 pounds lighter than his son. Coleman Jr. said that he's not the same type of player as his father, and he detailed the differences in a playful scouting report.

"My dad had quick-speed, and he wanted to put the ball in play all the time," he said. "There were a lot of bunts. For me, I have the speed, but I can also hit a little more. He's given me all the tools to produce myself, and whatever sport I played, he always backed me up on it. He never forced me to play baseball, but now that I'm getting older, baseball is definitely my number-one focus. Hopefully, I can play as long as he did. That would be a great honor if I could play for the same teams."

And if he's going to make that happen, he can take solace in the fact that his father took a somewhat similar path. Coleman Sr. played his college ball at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, and he used his speed and technique to outplay his 10th-round pedigree.

The younger Coleman's odyssey took him to Scottsdale Community College before he wound up at Southern, and he's struggled to work his way into the starting lineup for legendary coach Roger Cador. Still, Cador looks at Coleman Jr. and he sees a winning player and a winning person.

"He's a real class act kid," said Cador. "He loves his teammates, and he'd do anything for his team. He's very community service oriented, and he understands that he's going to have to wait for his chance to play. He doesn't start, but he's always prepared to do what it takes to help the team.

"There are few kids who have parents as successful as his dad was. He still understands that you can be a role player and still derive an enormous amount of pleasure from it."

Coleman Jr. can see no other way to make his dreams come true, and he's happily adjusted to the life of a part-time player. For now, he's just biding his time and trying to make sure he gets his work in, an endeavor in which he receives all the encouragement he needs from his father.

"We talk all the time," he said. "Now that he's getting older, it's more life stories, but he still tells me every day, 'Hey, go run your bleachers. Go take 300 swings.' He's always constantly reminding me to do the right things. I've been blessed to be around the game. Just walking in this morning, there were guys taking photos of the locker room and the stadium. I don't have to do that. I've been around."

Sometimes, Coleman Jr. finds himself bemusedly looking at college football rosters and marvelling at the size of the young running backs. He knows he made the right choice, though, and he relishes the opportunity to pursue his education and his baseball dream at the same time.

Coleman's mother graduated from Southern, and he still has family in Baton Rouge. And even if he's a reserve, he knows he can learn a lot from Cador, who reached Triple-A as a player and has been named the Southwestern Athletic Conference Coach of the Year 13 times.

"He knows what he's talking about," said Coleman Jr. of Cador. "He's been around and coaching longer than I've been alive. The knowledge that he knows and tells us every day, he gives us a new story about life. It's not just baseball. You can play baseball, but there's more above it in life. He reminds us every day to work hard in and out of the classroom, and on and off the field."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.