Aminah Vega after passion, hopes to continue succeeding at Duke

Tony Vega still remembers the day his daughter Aminah came to him and his wife, Issella, begging them to let her play softball. She was 8 years old and had already watched her older brother Antonio play baseball.

What Tony wasn’t prepared for, however, was how quickly and easily Aminah picked up the game’s finer points. The way she swung a bat and threw a ball made her feel like she had been playing for years.

One day in a recreational league game, Aminah was running from first to second. The ball arrived first. Unfazed, she did a hook slide and reached for the base with her hand.

Tony was shocked. He turned to Issella and asked, “Do you realize how impressive that is? It’s amazing.”

Tony, who played for the USA 14U Junior Olympic team and was a catcher at Miami Dade College, didn’t know much about softball, but he knew enough to realize his daughter already had an instinct to be a player. special even at such a young age. age.

Aminah spent much of her early years traveling with the family to watch Antonio, who later played in West Virginia as a third baseman. She also gives a lot of credit to her father for making her the successful gamer she has become.

“The most important thing he taught me is that no matter how hard you work, there will always be ups and downs,” said Vega, an intermediate outfielder for Lady Dukes 18U Lamar who will begin his college career at Duke this fall. “It’s something I’ve never understood because I work every day. He taught me that your game is 99% mental and you’re not always going to be the best. Having my dad as your coach in growing up taught me a lot.”

Vega’s work ethic is as impressive as her instincts. She gets up at 4:15 a.m. three mornings a week and leaves only enough time to grab a snack and her bottle of water before getting in the car to work out at the gym. She comes home to do her homework until it’s time to leave for school, then comes home in the afternoon to do another practice session with her dad.

Even Lady Dukes coach James Lamar can’t help but marvel at Vega’s intense dedication to the game.

“She’s a winner,” said Lamar, who founded the Lady Dukes in 2016 with his wife, Duke head softball coach Marissa Young. “She’s incredibly determined to work hard. For me, the more kids I have like that on my team, it’s easier to coach those kids because when I ask them to find another piece of equipment, they can. to find.”

Vega played other sports growing up in Central Florida. She was a Level 4 gymnast but quickly realized that softball wasn’t just her passion, it was her best sport.

“Even though I was good at other sports, (softball) was the most fun and I thought I was going to be the best player,” Vega said.

Vega played for the Gainesville Gold the majority of his travel ball career. She realized that to play at the college level, she would have to face tougher competition and be constantly pushed to earn a spot. In the fall of 2020, she joined the Lady Dukes 18U team. During her second practice, she quickly got a taste of the intensity Lamar expected.

The team was doing field and field drills, and Vega failed to dive for a batted ball down the middle. Lamar immediately called her.

“He yelled at me not to dive for that,” Vega recalled. “It was the first time I got yelled at for not diving because I usually go diving if I think I can get it. I thought it was so special because it was a moment so growing up. I learned if I don’t dive. I don’t give it my all in this field, either I’ll get caught or I’ll have consequences.”

Acquiring this mindset has helped Vega prepare for big times.

In 2019 and 2021, she had the opportunity to play for the Puerto Rican national team. In her first appearance, she started at second base despite being the youngest player on the team.

In a game last year, the team was down a run against Peru when Vega came home with runners in second and third place. She lined a fly ball on the fence for a triple, putting Puerto Rico ahead to stay. Although she’s not afraid of pressure, she thinks that succeeding in big times is just another way of doing her job.

“She’s grown so much between the ears to be a better hitter and (have) better discipline,” Lamar explained. “She’s not going to chase bad pitches out of the box. She’ll take the walk, she’ll pass the bat and let the next person do their job. The pressure of being that kind of player and managing it and being responsible is remarkable at this age.”

Shortly after returning from this series, Vega was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, an immune system disorder resulting in an overproduction of thyroid hormones. It was one of the biggest challenges she had to face in recent memory.

“It had a big impact on everything that was going on in my life,” Vega said. “It’s one of the biggest things I’ve had to overcome since I was 18.”

Vega played for four years in college high school, leading the team to regional finals in his senior season. As a junior, she cut .609/.750/1.421 with 13 homers, 30 RBIs, 51 runs, four triples and five doubles. The team reached the state semifinals.

She earned 2021 Volusia County Player of the Year honors and was a runner-up for Florida Dairy Player of the Year.

Originally committed to Central Florida, Vega decided Duke would be a better fit. She changed her commitment to the Blue Devils last November on National Signing Day. His mother made Duke shirts for everyone in the family. The signing took place in the school classroom.

“Having a family environment and friends to support me was cool,” Vega said.

Since becoming the first softball head coach at Duke in the summer of 2015, Marissa Young has built a winning program in a short time. The Blue Devils won their first ACC Championship title in 2021 and clinched a No. 13 seed in their first NCAA Tournament appearance. The team finished last season ranked 12th in the latest USA Today/NFCA poll after making its first Super Regional appearance.

Young is impressed with Vega’s speed, soft-handedness, versatility and softball IQ.

“She is a coach among peers, a student of the game, always striving to improve herself and those around her,” Young said in a statement after the signing. “Aminah is one of the best lead hitters with her high field goal percentage and ability to hit for power in all areas.”

If Vega is intimidated by the transition from the high school trip and prom to an NCAA Division I program, she doesn’t show it. After all, she’s already had some great times playing for the Lady Dukes and being on the international stage. His enthusiasm to start a new journey with a young but successful program is contagious.

“I look forward to being in a fun environment, having a schedule, and playing with girls that I will soon call family,” Vega said. “I’m going to have so many experiences and be in a good education system. Hopefully we can win a college world series by the time I’m four years old.”

Vega’s intensity combined with a fast-growing schedule makes this goal as attainable as anything she’s achieved.