Vernon Wells: Artist, Ballplayer, Husband, Father
by David Krival
Artwork by Vernon Wells, Jr.
(This article appeared in the Holiday 2003 issue of HardBall
North 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
"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.
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
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
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.”
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
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
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
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
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.