Persistence pays off for Vogelsong
Right-hander happy to get second opportunity in San Fran
The baseball carousel has come full circle for Ryan Vogelsong. It just took an awfully long time for him to complete the trip.
Vogelsong is in the Giants' starting rotation these days, which is where he thought he'd be a long time ago when he was drafted out of Kutztown University and signed his first professional contract in 1998.
At Kutztown, he had been a walk-on infielder, converted to pitcher when two other hurlers went down with injuries. He was good enough to be named an All-American and caught the attention of the Giants, who drafted him in the fifth round. Since then, he's logged time in four different Major League organizations and two more in Japan.
San Francisco traded Vogelsong to Pittsburgh in 2001 and a year later, he underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. He returned to the Pirates and in September 2004, and made a nondescript late-season start against Philadelphia. It seemed like nothing special at the time, but it was to be his last Major League start for seven years -- a mere 2,412 days.
After spending the next season in the Pirates bullpen, Vogelsong dropped off the Majors' radar screen. And when that happens, it's exceedingly difficult to climb back.
He pitched the next three seasons in Japan, an American expatriate at a time when many Japanese players were going the other way, crossing the Pacific to play in the United States. Vogelsong dreamed of making that same trip home all the time.
After two years with the Hanshin Tigers and another with the Orix Buffaloes, Vogelsong came back to the United States in 2010, signing a Minor League deal with Philadelphia. He was released in midseason and hooked on with the Angels before being released again at season's end. He had been a combined 3-8 at Triple-A for the two organizations.
At age 33 and out of the Majors since 2006, Vogelsong was well past the prospect stage of his career. But it's tough to walk away from the game, and last December, he signed another Minor League deal, this time with the Giants. The contract included an invitation to Spring Training.
"He came into Spring Training and he opened eyes up right away," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "The way he was throwing the ball, he could have easily made our club. We just didn't have a spot for him."
Vogelsong was shipped to Triple-A Fresno where he was 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA. When Barry Zito got hurt, the Giants purchased his contract on April 17. There were two relief outings -- 4 2/3 scoreless innings -- and then Vogelsong was a starter again, seven years after the fact.
The first start of the rest of his life came against his old team, the Pirates. It was a moment he said he'd dreamed of "thousands of times." He worked into the sixth inning, struck out eight and was credited with the victory. It was a milestone moment for the journeyman pitcher.
"For a long time, I wondered if I was ever going to pitch in the big leagues again, let alone get a chance to be a starter again and win a game," he said. "It was a sense of accomplishment for me before the first pitch."
There's no way of knowing how long Vogelsong will stay in the Giants rotation that includes two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, heading a dominant staff. He is on the bubble, a place he's been plenty of times before. But that win in Pittsburgh is tucked away in his memory forever, testimony that perseverance often brings rewards in baseball as well as life.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.