How Cam Vieaux walked on at MSU, turned down Detroit Tigers and had magical MLB debut

Detroit Free Press

You want some perseverance?

You want an example of somebody who has refused to give up his dream of playing in the big leagues?

And, just to top it off, you want a happy ending, too?

Let me tell you about Cam Vieaux, a walking inspiration, a lefty pitcher who went to Walled Lake Western, decided to walk-on on at Michigan State and has spent a quarter of his life grinding through the minor leagues.

A year ago, Vieaux was pitching for the Indianapolis Indians — the Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates — and his parents, Brian and Amy, were in the stands.

“It was towards the end of the season,” Brian said. “He throws a pitch and takes a line drive straight off his foot and breaks his foot.”

The injury ended Cam’s 2021 season. “In some ways you wondered if it was going to end his career,” Brian said. “Because he was 27 at that point, and time was ticking.”

Cam was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 19th round of the 2015 draft but he decided to go back to MSU. He bet on himself and it paid off when the Pirates drafted him in the sixth round in 2016.

But his climb through the Pirates’ system turned into a slog. Years passed. Other prospects were called up to the big leagues over  Cam. He was still grinding, still working.

Then, the Pirates decided to convert Cam from a starter to a reliever.

“They said your path to the big leagues is going to be as a late innings setup guy,” Brian said. “‘He’s like, ‘I’ll do anything you want to me to do.’”

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The longest trip to the majors

Cam started this season in Indianapolis.

But his life changed dramatically on June 16.

“It was late in the afternoon,” Brian said. “Cam tried to call me and I was on a conference call.”

Cam called his mother on FaceTime.

“And he never FaceTimes us,” Brian said.

Cam told them the news: After 132 appearances in the minor leagues, after all the bus rides, after grinding his way through the minors, he was getting called up to the Pirates.

“We’re asking him, ‘How did it happen?’ And he’s like, ‘I don’t even know.’”

He was still in shock.

“They booked him on a flight from Atlanta to Pittsburgh,” Brian said. “So he’s getting all this stuff packed up from his hotel, and jumps in an Uber to go to the Atlanta airport. He’s pulling into the airport and gets an alert from Delta that his flight was canceled.”

His first instinct was to get a hotel, assuming he would be re-booked in the morning.

“So he gets dropped off at a hotel, no reservations, of course, walks in and it’s sold out,” Brian said.

Back in Michigan, Brian started to search for rooms, using his Marriott app.

“I finally found one,” Brian said. “As he gets back into the Uber and he gets a notification from Delta that they re-booked him from Atlanta to Cleveland.”

Cam flew to Cleveland and the Pirates put him up in a hotel for the night.

Meanwhile, back in Michigan, the Vieaux family was scrambling to get ready for a quick trip to Pittsburgh.

“Late morning on Friday, the Pirates sent a driver to pick him up and drove him to Pittsburgh,” Brian said. “So he arrives in Pittsburgh, and we’re driving to Pittsburgh — me, Amy, our other son, Ethan, and my mom are driving to Pittsburgh.”

Where would the Vieaux family sit during the game?

That’s when Sheldon White, the former Detroit Lions vice president of player personnel, came into the story. White recently took a job with the Pittsburgh Steelers but he still owns a house on the same street as the Vieaux family.

LAST YEAR: How ex-Lions exec Sheldon White navigated a hectic 19 hours to see son’s first NFL game

“So Sheldon White finds out all this is going on,” Brian said. “He reaches out to the Steelers front office and asked if they had any seats available because they have a suite at PNC Park. He ended up getting us five or six tickets in the suite, which was awesome.”

MORE FROM SEIDEL: I went looking for the next Tiger & found a star LB for Michigan State

Seven years in the making

The Vieaux family was in the suite, not really expecting Cam to pitch Friday because of the crazy travel schedule.

“We had a great setup in the suite,” Brian said. “Then midway through the game, we’re looking out in the bullpen and I see a left-hander warming up. Couldn’t see the number, couldn’t see who it was. But I could tell by his motion.”

It was Cam.

“It’s one thing to see him in the uniform on the field,” Brian said. “Seeing him come out on the field, getting the ball from the manager is just surreal.”

He struck out Giants third baseman Evan Longoria to end the fifth inning for his first career strikeout.

A camera caught Brian jumping up and down and screaming in the suite: “Let’s go!” And the Pirates sent it out on social media.

“Oh man, it’s pretty insane,” Cam told reporters. “It worked out well that it’s Father Day weekend and I could give him something for that. I jokingly said, ‘Come on man, act like you’ve been here before.’”

He smiled.

“I’m so glad he did that,” Cam told reporters. “It’s awesome. He rarely ever shows emotion. I’ve never seen him act like that, so that was pretty cool.”

Cam threw 1⅔ innings, recording three strikeouts and didn’t allow a run.

“Awesome, man,” Cam told reporters. “It’s been a long time coming. Seven years in the minors now. Just grinding through it. It really hasn’t even set in yet. It’s been a crazy 24 hours to say the least.”

After the game, a security guard allowed Cam’s family and friends to go on the field for pictures taken by the Pirates.

“Just super cool,” Brian said. “We got some good photos.”

What a Father’s Day gift!

Late morning Sunday, the Vieaux family drove back to Michigan.

“We didn’t expect him to throw again so soon,” Brian said. “He threw almost 30 pitches on Friday night. So we drove home and got unpacked and put the game on the iPad.”

They got a text from Brent Zdebski, one of Cam’s friends from high school.

Zdebski, now a quality control football coach at Ohio State, went to Pittsburgh to see Cam. He took a video of Cam warming up in the bullpen and sent it to Brian.

“I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Brian said.

Then he pitched again got Longoria to ground into a double play

“It was actually more nerve wrecking to watch the game on TV or an iPad than it was in person,” Brian said.

Cam pitched one inning and didn’t allow any hits or runs.

“The last two offseasons he really did a lot with his body to get stronger and get just get more flexible and fluid,” Brian said. “And I think that’s that work is paying off.”

After all the bullpens, after the years in the minors, after the buses that broke down, after the nights in hotels and the endless games, his son is a Major Leaguer.

“It’s still pretty surreal, honestly,” Brian said.

MORE FROM SEIDEL: The biggest winner from Riley Greene’s debut? His pal, Spencer Torkelson

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

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