SF Giants Pitcher Ryan Vogelsong on the World Baseball Classic and His Career

Dan MoriCorrespondent IFebruary 22, 2013

SF Giants Pitcher Ryan Vogelsong on the World Baseball Classic and His Career

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    Ryan Vogelsong has taken a long and circuitous route to get to where he is now, the pinnacle of baseball success. In the past two seasons, Vogelsong emerged as one of the Giants' top starting pitchers, an All-Star in 2011 and a key contributor to the Giants' 2012 World Series victory.

    Vogelsong will be starting for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, an honor he is extremely excited about. The WBC championship series will take place in San Francisco at AT&T Park on March 17-19.

    To find more information on the WBC and to get tickets, go to www.worldbaseballclassic.com

    Prior to 2011, Vogelsong's career appeared to be one of long bus rides to minor league towns and flights to distant locations around the world.

    Vogelsong broke into the majors with San Francisco in 2000 and was traded, along with outfielder Armando Rios, to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the middle of the 2001 season.

    This deal brought Jason Schmidt and veteran outfielder John Vander Wal to the Giants. Schmidt would go on to win 78 games for the Giants in six years and was a three-time All-Star.

    Vogelsong's career took a very different path. He was shuttled back and forth from Pittsburgh to various minor league cities. 

    Vogelsong played in Japan from 2007 to 2009 before returning to the U.S. in 2010, where he played in the minors for the Angels and Phillies organizations. After playing winter ball, Vogelsong signed with the Giants and opened the 2011 season in Fresno.

    After an injury to Barry Zito opened the door, Vogelsong joined the Giants and pitched brilliantly. He was an All-Star and became a mainstay in the starting rotation. In 2011, he had a record of 13-7 with an ERA of 2.71 and WHIP of 1.252.

    Determined to prove that 2011 was not a fluke, Vogelsong had a very successful 2012 season. He pitched a career high of 189.2 innings and compiled a record of 14-9 with an ERA of 3.37 and WHIP of 1.228.

    Vogelsong started four postseason games for the Giants and was outstanding. He threw a total of 24.2 innings, allowing only three earned runs, 16 hits and 10 walks while striking out 21. Vogelsong compiled a 3-0 record with an ERA of 1.09 and WHIP of 1.054.

    Let's take a more detailed view of Vogelsong's thoughts on the WBC and the Giants. 

Ryan Vogelsong's Thoughts on the World Baseball Classic

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    Ryan Vogelsong alerted WBC representatives that he was interested in playing in the event. In August, Vogelsong participated in a press conference to promote the WBC. His experience in Japan and winter ball, as well as his enthusiasm for the WBC, made him a perfect spokesman.

    Vogelsong was thrilled when Joe Torre, the manager of Team USA, invited him to pitch for the team.

    "It's disappointing to lose baseball in the Olympics, so this is our major international competition."

    "I'm humbled, it's a tremendous honor to put on the USA jersey. It's a dream come true," Vogelsong said. "It means a lot to be considered one of the best players in the country and compete against the best players in the world."

    The Giants completed their World Series sweep of the Detroit Tigers on October 28th. With their postseason run and the WBC starting a month before the regular season, Vogelsong's offseason was substantially shorter than that of most players.

    I asked Vogelsong if he prepared any differently to get ready early for the WBC.

    "Not much was different. Last year was the first spring training I knew I was on the team and what my job was. In prior years, I always had to be ready to go from the first day of camp and the first bullpen to show what I had and be ready to pitch in games."

    Vogelsong also had to prepare early in the three years he played in Japan, when spring training opened on February 1st. He did not seem at all concerned with his abbreviated offseason.

The Long Hard Journey Back to the Major Leagues Was Worth It

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    The term journeyman certainly applied to Ryan Vogelsong throughout his career. From 1998 to 2010, in between stints with the Giants and Pirates, Vogelsong toiled in 10 minor league cities in the U.S., several for more than one season.

    These locations were the not-so-glamorous cities of Salem-Keizer, San Jose, Shreveport, Fresno, Nashville, Lynchburg, Altoona, Indianapolis, Salt Lake City and Lehigh Valley.

    Vogelsong's travels were not limited to the United States. He also played in Japan for three years and in Venezuela for winter ball.

    The perseverance paid off. Vogelsong returned to San Francisco in 2011 and showed that he belonged in the major leagues. I asked Vogelsong what drove him to keep trying after so many years.

    "I've never been a quitter and I love this game. I would have had a real difficult time being done playing baseball and knowing that I had the career I had prior to 2011."

    Vogelsong has always worked hard, adding, "I know deep down that I put everything I had into what I was doing in terms of working out, preparing and pitching, but the results just weren't there. It would have been real tough for me to hang it up, go home and have to remember it that way."

    Vogelsong confided, "That really drove me more than anything. I wanted a chance to turn this thing around. Thank God it happened."

    This incredible drive to succeed was something Vogelsong found inside himself at every stop along his improbable journey. He credits an outstanding support system for standing behind him, particularly his wife, parents and friends from his high school and college days. 

    The good news is that Vogelsong has finally found his baseball home in San Francisco with the Giants.

Ryan Vogelsong's Three Years in Japan Helped Him Mature as a Person

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    Ryan Vogelsong pitched in Japan for three years from 2007 to 2009. I asked him what he learned and how this experience helped him.

    Vogelsong said that he didn't learn a lot pitching-wise in Japan. What really benefited him were all the regular repetitions he got.

    "The major thing was life in general in a foreign country, traveling a lot and being away from home helped me grow up and mature. Not knowing the language and needing a translator helped me develop patience."

    Vogelsong went on to admit, "One of my biggest downfalls as a young player was a lack of patience, and being over there helped me."

Vogelsong Credits Team Chemistry as a Key Factor in the Giants' Success in 2012

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    Vogelsong stressed how the Giants' team chemistry came together in spring training.

    "The unity and bond we built helped us overcome a great deal of adversity."

    The Giants lost closer Brian Wilson for the season very early in the 2012 campaign. Pablo Sandoval spent two stints on the disabled list. Melky Cabrera was also suspended for testing positive for PEDs, which could have derailed the Giants.

    The Los Angeles Dodgers had also made some big moves, bringing in Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett for the stretch run. Many experts had the Dodgers overtaking the Giants and running away with the NL West.

    Instead, as Vogelsong stated, "The loss of Melky really locked us all in together. We brought on Scutaro and Pence, and they fit in really well with us right away. Both Pence and Scutaro added so much to our team."

    Vogelsong was quick to add that because the Giants had such great team unity, they were able to overcome those hurdles. That chemistry also helped the Giants overcome six straight elimination games in the NL playoffs. 

Focus and Mental Preparation Are Critical to Vogelsong's Success

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    Ryan Vogelsong is known for his mental preparation and laser-like focus the day before his starts. He takes that intensity to the mound with him on every outing.

    I asked Vogelsong what he actually thinks about on the day before a start. His answer surprised me a bit, as he said he is not as concerned with the opposing hitters as he is with his own mechanics.

    "I'm a very mechanical pitcher, and when my mechanics are right, I feel like I can do things with the ball that I need to do. I really concentrate on what I need to do to execute pitches and that's at the forefront of my mind. I have to stay focused on what I need to do."

    "I want to be 100 percent prepared mentally when I take the mound." 

What Is It Like to Throw to Buster Posey?

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    Buster Posey has caught the majority of Ryan Vogelsong's starts. I asked Vogelsong what it's like to throw to Posey.

    "Posey does a tremendous job behind the plate for us. He has to know all five starters who are completely different and then all the bullpen guys too. He watches the hitter's swings, and we really work well together."

    "There's no ego in calling pitches. He's a very humble player, I'm very comfortable throwing to him. We work well together."

    Vogelsong mentioned that because Posey is such a great hitter, he's able to see things in the hitters that he can take advantage of.

Ryan Vogelsong and His Family Enjoy the Giants' 2012 Victory Parade

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    Ryan Vogelsong loves pitching in San Francisco, and the fans are a big reason for that.

    I asked Vogelsong if there was anything he'd like to say to the fans of San Francisco.

    He said, "I just want to tell them how much we appreciate them. When we're in other parks, it helps us realize just how good our fans are. The energy they give us gives us a home-field advantage. We definitely enjoy it."

The Giants Are Poised to Make a Run at the Title Again in 2013

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    The San Francisco Giants return the vast majority of their 2012 world championship team. Although they didn't add any big-name players, the foundation is in place for another run at the title.

    All eight starting position players are back, along with the entire starting five. Six of the seven reliever spots are taken, leaving only one more relief spot up for grabs.

    There are a couple of openings for solid utility players in the infield and outfield.

    If the Giants are able to win another World Series this year, you can be sure that Ryan Vogelsong will be an integral member of that success.