Ty Blach was at his first Spring camp with the San Francisco Giants. Naturally, the rookie was locker buddies with the team’s veteran of all veterans.
One who was drafted by the Giants in the 20th century, traveled to Pittsburgh, across the Pacific to Japan, sunk back to the States and into the lower minors before returning to the team that drafted him to win an All-Star bid and, eventually a ring or two.
That veteran was Ryan Vogelsong. And he was pitching that day, so Blach decided to slip his locker-mate some words of encouragement.
“‘Hey, go get ‘em today.”
Vogelsong turned around, gave Blach a death glare and barked:
“Don’t talk to me on pitching day!”
The bark had no malicious intent, it wasn’t some kind of rookie hazing act. Anyone who’s played on a team with Vogelsong knows not to speak or even lock eyes with him on pitching day, laughed Matt Cain:
“(Blach) probably didn’t know what Vogey was like on game days, didn’t know the routine. Vogey probably made it more than he needed to because he was a young guy.”
Everyone lucky enough to be on a team with Vogelsong quickly learned about his quirks, his drive, said Blach:
“That was just his way of preparing and being intense about it and going about his business… Everything he did was with a very close sense of detail. Everything he did he did with a purpose.
It was that sense of purpose that propelled Vogelsong to legend status at AT&T Park. He’d garnered a standing within the organization and fan base that allowed the 40-year-old to return to his home mound on a one-day contract and retire a Giant Sunday afternoon.
In a pre-game ceremony, Vogelsong, wearing No. 32 once more, tossed a couple of pitches to Nick Hundley (Buster Posey was unavailable with a hurt big toe) and waved to a standing crowd. Familiar chants of “Vogey” ringing out once again.
Vogelsong’s celebrated retirement may not make much sense outside of San Francisco. At the very surface he was, as Deadspin put it, “undistinguished” in his back-and-forth tenure with the Giants, where he posted a 48-46 record and 3.89 ERA as a back-end member of the rotation and bullpen through five season.
But those within the park’s confines see those numbers in a different light. Vogelsong’s career made a rapid ascent from 2010 to 2011, where he went from playing on minor league squads with the Los Angeles Angels and Philadelphia to making the All-Star game with the Giants in a matter of months.
The fans quickly took a liking to Vogey, and his teammates began to emulate his intensity spawned from a tumultuous, 19-year career (12 years in the Majors). Vogelsong said before taking the mound one last time:
“I think people can relate with struggling, failing and fighting through things and coming out the other side. It’s one of those things like, when all this started coming up, you start reflecting a bit…there were moments in my career if you told me 10 years down the road that was going to happen, no chance, I would have laughed in your face.”
Vogelsong’s impact on the team peaked in the postseason. The team went a perfect 7-0 in the 2012 and 2014 playoff games in which Vogelsong started, most notably in Game 3 of the 2012 World Series in which he tossed 5-2/3 scoreless innings against the Detroit Tigers. He shook his head as Bochy came out to retrieve the ball from him. The skipper misses his competitiveness:
“We miss Vogey, we miss the type of player he was…he impacted the team with his intensity and focus he had. …You saw how he worked when it was his day to pitch and it did rub off on the players. He transformed into a really different person.”
Fans love his journey, so SFBay asked some current Giants one question: What stood out about Vogelsong as a teammate?
“His competitiveness. I think that’s where the base of it started. I think just his journey expanded that. He’s got a great personality and he’s fun to be around. Super serious and super goofy at the same time. He knows the right time to chime in and not chime in. He’s got the perfect blend of it. His journey with injuries and going to Japan, it’s been quite the experience and it’s something you can pick off of.”
“You knew when he took the ball every fifth day, or even out of bullpen, he was locked in. He had that feeling around everyone this guy was ready to win. You knew he was going to compete and the guys on the other side knew too. You knew it was going to be a long day because he was stubborn about how he pitched and how he went about his business, and that’s what made Vogey special is the fact he was so stubborn in his ability to maximize it.”
“It’s hard to pick one thing, because there’s so many awesome things about Vogey. He came with such an intensity and his drive and work ethic, he was a horse. He had so much love for the game, like you could feel how much he wore, if things didn’t go well and how intense he would prepare, it was all in for the team.”
“Like, he was all in and it was powerful just watching him walk around. He wouldn’t even talk for two days before he pitched. That energy was just uplifting and it was an honor to be his teammate.”
“He was really great about being able to learn from him and open to letting young guys talk to him and ask for advice. He’s been through a lot in his career so he was awesome to be able to bounce things off of.”
“He came up biggest in the big moments, which, as a player, competitor you want to see. You had confidence playing behind him because you knew he was going to go out there and pitch with everything he had. Great teammate, all around great family. I’m happy to see him come back.”
“His story in general is incredible, his journey, to come back after being overseas and then bounce around and come back and have so much success, it just shows his determination and will.”
“Watching him go about his business, the intensity and focus and preparation that he did. That’s really all you need to know about his game.”
After a year with the Pittsburgh Pirates — his other big-league home — Vogelsong was asked to join the Minnesota Twins’ Triple-A team following Spring camp this year.
That’s when he did something entirely uncharacteristic: He checked out.
Vogelsong began inching his way back into San Francisco, acting as a mentor of sorts. When Javier Lopez couldn’t, Vogelsong accompanied Madison Bumgarner on his rehab assignment in San Jose this past July.
“You know how Bum is, he can be a little intimidating, I was there for him to have someone to talk to in between innings. I know his mechanics better than anyone.”
Any half-decent player won’t always make a good coach, he knows. But given the impact he had on an entire organization, the fans and teammates, seeing him suit up as one in the near future does not seem far-fetched in the slightest.