2008 was such a crazy year for Rick Vaughn, BSEd Health Education ’79, that he knew it would be December before he could really process it all. Even then it felt as if it had been a dream.
After 23 years working in major league baseball (MLB), Vaughn, vice president of communications for the Tampa Bay Rays, went to the World Series, a first he shares with his team.
“When the champagne is flowing and it is your team, the feeling is indescribable, and it is still hard to believe it happened,” says Vaughn. But the evidence is everywhere. Even in the middle of winter, Vaughn says he still sees people in Rays’ gear each time he goes outside.
In many ways, the Rays had been viewed as second-class citizens, he says, and what they have been able to accomplish—going from the team with the worst record in the league to the World Series the very next year—is rare and has only been done by one other MLB team.
“[Going to the World Series] was very special for the team, but it was also very rewarding to see the fans come together and get behind the team,” he says. “We were the underdogs and became such a great story. There was so much media attention.”
The similarities to his alma mater’s 2006 trip to the Final Four did not go unnoticed. “One morning I was in the car listening to Dick Vitale on the radio—he’s one of our season ticketholders—and he said, ‘you know who this team reminds of …George Mason,’” Vaughn says and laughs.
Vaughn has his own glory days at Mason to look back on. A pitcher for Mason’s baseball team while a student here, he threw the school’s first no-hitter in 1976, during his sophomore year. Mason baseball coach Bill Brown was his catcher.
It is also where he began his career in sport information. Back then, the campus sports information office was run by student volunteers, Vaughn being one of them. When he graduated, they offered him a full-time paid position. He only stayed a year, quickly moving on to director positions at area universities such as Catholic and American before making the jump to MLB as an assistant public relations director for the Baltimore Orioles. He even enjoyed a brief stint with the Washington Redskins in the early 1990s before returning to baseball.
“I am a huge Redskins fan,” he says. “But my calling and my heart have always been with baseball.”
Vaughn continues to stay in touch with his former teammates, and when the Rays are in town, it isn’t unusual to find a group of them catching up at Brion’s Grille. But lifelong friends weren’t the only thing Vaughn found at Mason, it is also where he met his wife of 29 years, Sue Peluso. The Vaughns have two daughters: Amanda, who just graduated from the University of Florida, and Elissa, a sophomore at the University of Central Florida.
While Vaughn has managed to catch up on his sleep since the World Series whirlwind in the fall, things haven’t slowed down for him or the Rays as they begin spring training. And as the Cinderella team, the spotlight is still bright on the Rays.
“There is never much downtime, but I love it,” he says.