By Morris Phillips
SAN FRANCISCO–Ryan Vogelsong was back. But his signature intensity was not.
The then 39-year old former Giants pitcher attempted to extend his big league career one more season by accepting a spring training invite from the Twins. But when it became apparent that he wouldn’t make the Opening Day roster, Vogelsong checked out, and all the passion and intensity that drove his unlikely career arc went away as well.
“I pretty much checked out mentally,” he said. “And I knew when I checked out mentally, it was time.”
After seven seasons with the Giants, and nine more in a whole bunch of other places, Vogelsong was done, bringing him to Sunday, when the Giants opted to honor the reliever turned starter for all his service. The club and the pitcher had different ideas on what should be included in the pre-game ceremony.
The Giants offered to sign Vogelsong and have him pitch in a Giants uniform one final time. But Vogelsong, now 40, passed, not wanting to disrupt the sanctity of the game.
So instead, Vogelsong threw out the first pitch, donning an entire uniform, and received a lengthy ovation from the AT&T Park crowd, including his gregarious wife, Nicole and son, Ryder. Emotional and heartfelt, the moment matched the intensity of the pitcher’s career.
Vogelsong was drafted by the Giants in 1998, and made his big league debut in 2001 as a reliever. Midway through the 2002 season, Vogelsong was part of the trade that brought Jason Schmidt to San Francisco in advance of the club’s World Series appearance that fall.
Injuries derailed Vogelsong in Pittsburgh with the Pirates, and his oddysey through Japan and the minor leagues commenced, taking him away from the major leagues for four seasons. In 2011, the pitcher resurfaced, earning a roster spot with the Giants, and going on to win 13 games as a starter. That season, Vogelsong also earned his one All-Star appearance as a more than capable fill-in for the injured Matt Cain.
In 2012, Vogelsong won 14 games, and made three postseason starts, as the Giants won all three on their way to a World Series crown.
Throughout the championship season, Vogelsong labored, pitching with traffic on the bases, refusing to give in, and more often than not finding an escape before trouble surfaced. The quintessential fifth starter, Vogey labored while his more talented rotation mates cruised. But the pitcher earned the respect of his teammates and coaches with his tenacity and willingness to contribute however manager Bruce Bochy saw fit.
“He was very popular in the clubhouse but you saw a different look when it was his day to pitch, and how he competed,” Bochy said.