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Player Profile: Vernon Wells, Jr.

Vernon Wells: Artist, Ballplayer, Husband, Father

by David Krival
Artwork by Vernon Wells, Jr.

(This article appeared in the Holiday 2003 issue of HardBall Magazine)

Vernon Wells Jr. on HardBall CoverNorth Texas MSBL member Vernon Wells, Jr. is a nationally-acclaimed sports artist. His commissioned works adorn the homes and offices of professional athletes and teams of the National Football League, National Basketball Association, Canadian Football League, and Major League Baseball.

 "I was a successful football player in high school and college,” Wells said. "Football spring practice sessions directly conflict with the baseball season. I couldn’t do both. So, strange as it may seem, I had to choose between the two sports.”

 As a result, Wells played night-time semi-pro baseball while in high school. "I never lost my love of the game,” he said. "I get a tremendous charge whenever I hit a ball on the screws, run down a ball in the gap or throw a guy out at the plate. And, come World Series time, I am totally motivated to win that Ring. I completely identify with every other MSBL ballplayer on a team at the World Series or Fall Classic,” Wells said.

MSBL Ballplayer

Vernon joined the Ft. Worth MSBL in approximately 1992. "I’m really not sure what year it was,” Wells said. "Whenever it was, I was playing slo-pitch softball at the time and I haven’t touched a softball since.”

After a few seasons in the Ft. Worth MSBL, Wells moved to the Dallas MSBL [now the North Texas MSBL] in about 1997. While making the transition, Wells played in both leagues for one season.

Now 48, Wells has competed in at least ten MSBL World Series and Fall Classics. He has also played in the Disney Holiday Classic, the Vegas Kickoff Classic, the Vegas Open and the inaugural Cactus Classic. "I love these tournaments,” Wells said. "If North Texas isn’t sending a team, I hook up with someone who is. The MSBL has been and continues to be a tremendously rewarding activity for me,” Wells added. "I schedule my year around MSBL events.”

At his core, Vernon Wells, Jr. is a ballplayer. By MSBL standards, he’s an exceptional outfielder, a top-notch hitter, and a consummate team player.

Wells played left field in the 38+ Continental Division Championship Game of the 2001 World Series. He singled and doubled in four at-bats, scored twice and drove in a run, but he missed getting the Ring when his Dallas Diamondbacks lost 9-6 to the Bristol, Connecticut Baseball Club. "We led, 6-4, going into the bottom of the eighth,” Vernon said, "but we made a couple of errors and they scored five runs. You can’t give a good team five runs and expect to win.”

"We had Mel Hall, the former big leaguer, on that team,” Wells recalled. "Hall never pitched professionally. In the MSBL, he gets to pitch once in a while and he finds that fulfilling.”

Proud Husband and Father

Vernon Wells, Jr. is also the father of Vernon Wells III, the Toronto Blue Jays’ All Star center fielder, now in his second complete Major League season. In 2002, the younger Wells compiled a .275 batting average with 23 home runs and 100 RBI, an outstanding first sea son. In 2003, the 24-year-old’s pace never faltered. Immune to the dreaded sophomore jinx, he hit .317 with 33 home runs and 117 RBI. "Obviously, we’re all very proud of him,” said Vernon Wells, Jr.

Throughout the tight-knit baseball community, the word is unanimous: Vernon III has the whole package. He can hit, run, throw, cover his position brilliantly and hit for power. Beyond that, he demonstrates uncommon maturity and poise.

Vernon and his wife Diana also have a thirteen-year-old daughter, Sydney. A multi-sport athlete, she is a standout in volleyball, basketball and fast-pitch softball. "She’s a natural hitter,” the older Wells said.

Another high-achieving member of the Wells family, Diana, is the Regional Director of the United States Department of Labor, Office of Public Affairs. A career civil servant in a demanding top-level position, Diana has found great satisfaction and success as a practitioner of a time-honored American folk art: she is an award-winning quilter. "She has a very tough job,” Vernon said. "Quilting allows her to tap into her creativity and relax.”

Career Change

Vernon and his wife met when they were both attending Texas Christian University. Vernon was a varsity wide receiver at TCU in 1975 and 1976. Prior to that, he had been a Junior College All-American at Ranger Junior College in Ranger, Texas. Headed for a career in professional football, Wells was the last man cut from the Kansas City Chiefs 1977 roster.

In 1978, when Diane was pregnant with Vernon III, Wells was signed by the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL. Again, fate seemed to deal Wells a tough blow. He suffered a season-ending shoulder separation injury in the pre-season and Calgary released him. As it turned out, the injury led to his big break.

In his spare time, Vernon had been sketching his teammates. His work was so good that several players urged Calgary executives to use Wells’ art on the cover of the team’s media guide. The Stampeders were Wells’ first client. Although Wells’ career as an artist did not immediately produce serious earnings, his cover sketch showed enough promise for him to decide to stick with it.

"The shoulder injury ended my season, not my career,” Vernon said. "I looked at my choices and I decided to retire from professional football and pursue a career as an artist. As a football player, my choices were limited. I could have returned to Calgary in 1979, but the CFL didn’t pay very well and I was developing a history of hard luck and injuries. I believed in myself as an artist and—vitally important—Diana also believed in me. I decided to go for it.”

Vernon Wells, Jr. with his painting of Toronto’s 2003 All-Stars (from left, his son Vernon Wells III, Roy Halladay and Carlos Delgado).

A Break

Joe Washington, the All-American Oklahoma University running back, was the best man at Vernon and Diana’s wedding. Vernon, Washington and NFL wide receiver Duriel Harris had all grown up in the same neighborhood in Port Arthur, Texas. They were close friends from elementary school and remain close today.

In 1981, when Washington was a member of the Washington Redskins, he vouched for Vernon’s artistic credibility and secured Vernon an interview with the ‘Skins PR Department. After the interview, Vernon received permission to have a display table, distribute brochures and talk with players on each Saturday before a home game. Wells would then attend the Sunday game and phot ograph the pla yers who had commissioned work. The photographs then served as a model for Vernon’s painting.

One of three V. Wells works commissioned by Torii Hunter (aka Spiderman) of the Minnesota Twins.

That season, Joe Theismann, Pat Tilley, Joe Ferguson and returner Larry Anderson all commissioned works from Wells, and became enthusiastic promoters of his art. "Most of my new customers come to me as a result of seeing my portraits of one of his teammates or one of his friends in the world of athletics,” Vernon said.

A Big Break

Although Wells found it difficult to simply hang up his spikes--and he continued to play semi-pro football with a club based in Shreveport until 1986--his career choice never wavered. He was an artist, drawing and painting on commission for teams and players in the NFL, CFL and the United States Football League. Vernon’s professional name, the way he signs his paintings, is V. Wells.

Wells moved to the Dallas area in 1988. Aside from making a happy connection with the MSBL, Vernon came to an agreement with Upper Deck, Inc. to produce their art cards from 1988 through 1993. "That was my big break,” Vernon said. "After the Upper Deck deal, I began to attract baseball clients. Professional baseball players saw my work and liked what they saw.”

V. Wells and His Clientele

One of four V. Wells paintings commissioned by Alex Rodriguez of the Texas Rangers.

Today, the list of V. Wells’ clients is truly amazing: Nolan Ryan, Muhammed Ali, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, David Wells, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irwin, Roger Clemens, Jason Giambi, Shannon Stewart, Torii Hunter and Robin Ventura, to name a few.

David Wells, the left-handed pitcher who has starred for Toronto and the Yankees, once told Vernon Wells III, "You know, if your dad didn’t charge so much, you might get a decent pitch to hit from me once in a while.”

At the time Wells painted him for Upper Deck, Robin Ventura was a member of the Chicago White Sox. One hour after he met Wells to discuss the project, Ventura got into a fight with the opposing pitcher that night—Nolan Ryan, another Wells client.

Several years ago, when Jason and Jeremy Giambi were teammates with the Oakland A’s, Jason gave his father a V. Wells portrait of his two sons.

Pitcher Jason Grimsley recently approached Vernon. "This is going to be my last year,” Grimsley said. "It’s time to get my painting done.”

Many, like Clemens and Giambi, are repeat customers. He produces about 25 pieces per year and he continues to rely primarily upon word-of-mouth to expand the base of his clientele.

In many cases, Wells maintains close relationships with his clients. For example, Shannon Stewart and Torii Hunter, relatively recent clients, were co-sponsors of the Texas Blue Jays, Vernon’s entry in the 48+ Federal Division of the 2003 MSBL World Series. Long-time North Texas MSBL member Ed Gamlin managed the team this year. The Jays posted a 4-2 record in Arizona, but missed the playoffs. Vernon designed and produced home-and-away uniforms for the club, while Shannon and Torii paid the bill. The incorporates the Blue Jays’ logo and the State of Texas’ Lone Star symbol [see below.] "That uniform and logo design was a labor of love,” Wells said.

Vernon Wells designed the logo and uniform for his Blue Jays team. "A labor of love,” he calls it.

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