The All-Star in Our Backyard

Mo Vaughn, photo by Aaron Bristol

Former MLB star Mo Vaughn wanted to see youth baseball coaching done right in Boca, so he decided to do it himself

Best known to baseball fans as the Boston Red Sox’s “Hit Dog” throughout most of the 1990s, these days former MLB All-Star and Boca Raton resident Mo Vaughn is known around town as “Coach Mo.”

After a 13-year career in Major League Baseball that included an American League MVP award and signing what was at the time the largest contract in baseball, Vaughn retired on less-than-ideal terms in 2003 due to a knee injury. He never planned to return to the game, but 15 years later, he’s set up shop in Boca to train a new generation of baseball’s finest.

“I was very angry when I left, and about why I left, and that I had to leave,” Vaughn shares. “So there was really no plan to get back into the game. There were just too many scars at that point. But my son started playing down here when he was 5, and I just slowly started creeping toward the field.”

After enduring a thrice-weekly commute from Coral Gables for his daughter’s tennis lessons for a time, Vaughn decided to move his family to Boca permanently. He and his family were still adjusting to South Florida after living in the Northeast for years, and just as his son started to play baseball, it hit him: “I realized that they played baseball 10 months a year down here,” he says, “which I had never even imagined could happen on the youth level.”

As his son grew more involved with the game, Vaughn grew more involved with coaching, eventually establishing an all-star team for his son and his son’s teammates to compete in a state tournament.

“It was approximately 32 days from when we made the team to the first day of the state tournament,” Vaughn says, “and it rained 30 days. I said that I would never, ever be in that situation again.” That’s when the idea for the Mo Vaughn Baseball Academy, since renamed the Vaughn Sports Academy, was born.

Now in its third year, the academy in north Boca Raton has more than 100 regular students and seven coaches on staff, with patrons ranging from 6-year-olds to major-leaguers who use the facilities to practice in the offseason.

“I’m very happy that the game has been brought back to me at the youth level,” he says of his new career. “I’ve learned how to coach, I learned how to affect kids in a positive way.”

Vaughn is deadly serious about the coaching mentality at his academy, and is motivated by what he sees as a dearth of competent coaching for youth players. “There’s a lot of bad coaching going on out there. A lot of coaches are accepting money and they’re not giving these kids the right instruction. And that really bothers the hell out of me.”

Though Vaughn admits that the chances of a young player going pro is extremely slim—the NCAA estimates that less than .02 percent of high school baseball players make it to the major leagues—he wants to give them the tools to be successful down the line.

“I can’t ask kids to know things that I haven’t taught them. If they don’t know something, then you as the coach are responsible,” he says.

And to Vaughn and his staff, instilling values that extend beyond the game in the young players they train is just as important as improving their athletic skill sets.

“I’m full circle in what I started doing as a kid at 8 years old. I made a career of it, and now I’m back in the chair on the other side of it trying to teach all those values and life lessons and pitfalls of what it takes to be successful.

“I wish I had time to reflect while I was playing,” he says of the way his new career has changed his relationship to baseball, “but you’re in such a race, and there’s so much pressure, that it’s hard to see the forest for the trees while you’re playing.

“I love the game more now than I ever did.”

This story is from the March 2021 of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.