The game begins for Cody Vannoy before the first pitch is ever thrown.
Before each game, the Rouse catcher introduces himself to umpire with a big smile and a friendly handshake. He assures the umpire that his main goal as a catcher is to keep the official protected, with the one caveat that foul balls don’t count.
“If it gets more calls, great, but I’m just trying to be friendly,” Vannoy said. “That conversation is meant to tell them I respect him and let’s have a good game. A lot of time those umpires get a lot of negative stuff from parents and coaches, so you don’t want him to be against you too.”
Vannoy’s baseball career began as a talented seventh grader playing in scrimmages on a high school team. Most recently, it’s been as the district MVP on Rouse’s first-ever district championship team and a DI scholarship.
As the saying goes, there’s no crying in baseball. But one of Vannoy’s first baseball memories was as a six-year-old at the YMCA when he welled up not because of something that happened in a game, but because the game was canceled.
When he did start playing at the YMCA, he began as an outfielder because he was fast and willing to dive. The intensity came along quickly as well. He used to yell at his sister for picking flowers in the outfield instead of concentrating on the game. When the catcher on his dad’s team said he wanted a shot in the outfield, Vannoy stepped behind the plate.
The rest is history.
“I just kind of liked it,” he said. “I noticed from an early age that God gave me gifts that a lot of other people didn’t have. I kind of got lazy in my middle school years but once I got into high school, I started to realize I could play in college.”
Vannoy began his high school baseball career at Summit Christian Academy. Because scrimmages don’t count toward the final record, he played on the varsity team as an eighth-grader and even then his talent stood out.
His freshman year at Summit, the Eagles were one game away from a playoff spot. His sophomore year, they beat rivals Hill Country Christian School and made the postseason for the first time in school history.
“If we’re talking just strictly natural talent and skills, he’s got a better eye for the game than any player I’ve seen in a long time,” former Summit head coach Chad Hoffman said. “He can make an adjustment on the fly. I had him pitching and catching and hitting all up and down the lineup and he would flex.”
During Hoffman’s final year at Summit in 2016, only eight players signed up to be full-time members of the baseball team, Cody’s then-freshman sister Bailey asked if she could go out for the team.
Not only did she make the team, but as a freshman, she started and won the game in which Summit beat Hill Country Christian. She started the playoff game, picking up second-team All-District honors in the process with Cody as her catcher.
“I would pitch and he would catch and then we would switch off whenever we needed to depending on the game,” Bailey said. “It was a feeling like no other. We were never really super close and then once high school hit that changed.”
They were the perfect brother/sister battery.
“It was so funny to watch these boys on the other team get mad that a girl struck them out or when she got hits off of them,” former Summit assistant coach Sean Miller said. “They had this ego about it but they knew deep down she was better them.”
It wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows on the field as Vannoy sometimes got a little too passionate to the point where his anger would get the better of him.
He can recall a time during his sophomore season when he looked one of his teammates in the eye and realized just how ugly and mean he was being because Vannoy expected more than the player was able to give.
Vannoy takes to heart a common motivational sports phrase that he heard from legendary Texas baseball coach Augie Garrido: “Baseball doesn’t build character, it reveals character.”
“I’ve always been passionate,” Vannoy said. “I wanted to win all the time. Sometimes I came across as a real jerk as a teammate. When I focus on the process and the love of the game, it becomes a lot easier to deal with disappointment and failure.”
The anger showed up more when he was pitching because he got mad about balls and strikes. One time, Miller went out to the mound to calm Vannoy down and asked him a question unrelated to baseball. Vannoy didn’t understand at first, but he settled down and closed out the game.
Hoffman said Vannoy was always good at dishing criticism but wasn’t very good at taking it. His strategy was to let the team call him out when he needed it but to make sure it was in a loving way.
“If I needed to go sit him in the dugout, so be it,” Hoffman said. “At the same time, he did find a peace on the baseball field. He wanted to live in the moment. He’s a man of integrity.”
Vannoy felt spoiled when he got to Rouse for his first practice with the Raiders ahead of his junior year. Practices at Summit took place either in a backyard with a makeshift mound or for an hour and a half max at the Cedar Park Youth League fields.
In his first year at Rouse, the Raiders had an incredible turnaround, going from zero district wins in 2016 to the first district championship in school history last year and made it to the regional quarterfinals.
“In any sport, reliability and consistency are big,” Rouse head coach Chad Krempin said. “He’s not going to let you down. I don’t think I’ve seen him loaf and I’ve never seen him be lazy. Every time we needed a big hit or there was a clutch situation, he rose to the occasion.”
Earlier in the year against Cedar Park, Krempin was in the dugout not sending many signs in and letting Vannoy call the game. Hayden Thomas pitched a complete game shutout and the Raiders beat the Timberwolves 4-0.
In 20 years of coaching and 16 as a head coach, Kempis said Vannoy is the second catcher he’s let call a game.
“We went to the dugout and we’d call the same pitch and we’d look at each other and laugh,” Vannoy said. “I could only imagine if I was with him as a freshman and what that would look like now. When you have that experience that he does, you have to learn from that.”
UTRGV was scoring players during a select tournament in Oklahoma when the coach approached the select coach and asked for the “badass” of the team. He picked out Vannoy and he was recruited that day.
But for now, he’s focused on the Raiders’ season.
“Then in the summer I’ll work out and get ready for the fall season at UTRGV,” Vannoy said. " (UTRGV head coach Derek Matlock) said he wants our players potentially at the next level. I’m not going to worry about that. If the opportunity calls and God tells me to go for it, that’ll be awesome. First, we have to finish the season."