Former Giant Vogelsong happy to be home in Philly
Ryan Vogelsong’s is a pretty good one.
He was raised in Chester County and pitched at Octorara High School and Kutztown University. He was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 1998 and made the big leagues two years later.
For seven seasons, Vogelsong bounced between the majors and minors in the San Francisco and Pittsburgh organizations.
After the 2006 season, he became a minor-league free agent and bounced all the way to Japan.
“It was a pretty big battle,” he said of a decision-making process that included his wife, Nicole. “She thought I was selling myself short too quickly and should have waited for more offers. But I was set on going to Japan, getting away and making some money. I had been in the bullpen for two years and I was looking forward to starting again.”
Japan proved to be a rewarding experience, personally and professionally, for Vogelsong. It was so rewarding that he stayed for three seasons even though he had opportunities to return to teams in the United States each year.
This winter, the opportunity to return to the States was too good to pass up.
Vogelsong, 32, is a lifelong Phillies fan. He was a teenager when the 1993 Phillies won the National League pennant. He was in the stands at Citizens Bank Park for Game 4 of the World Series last year. In fact, he participated in a Philadelphia sporting doubleheader and attended the Eagles game at Lincoln Financial Field that afternoon.
So when the Phillies called this winter and asked if he’d be interested in joining the organization, Vogelsong jumped at the chance.
“Obviously being a hometown guy, I always wanted to play for the Phillies,” said Vogelsong, who lives in Downingtown, Chester County, with his wife and six-month-old son, Ryder. “I told my agent, if they call, get something done.”
Vogelsong is 10-22 with a 5.86 ERA in 120 big-league games. In Phillies camp, he will get a look for the open fifth starter’s job and possibly a bullpen spot. Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick are expected to be the lead candidates for the fifth starter’s job, and Andrew Carpenter will be in the mix, too.
If Vogelsong doesn’t make the big club this spring, he will open the season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Once upon a time, Vogelsong may have become frustrated by a trip to the minors. Don’t misunderstand: He badly wants to make this club. But he knows it’s a long season and teams need pitching depth to get through six months of baseball. So if he doesn’t make the club in spring training, he will stay upbeat and approach his work seriously at Triple-A.
“If that’s the path I go, then I think I’ll get to Philadelphia at some point,” Vogelsong said. “I don’t let those things bother me anymore. I don’t focus on three steps ahead like I did when I was younger. I’ve learned to let things work out. When I was first coming up, I looked three steps ahead. I don’t do that anymore. Japan did that to me. It taught me patience. You can’t go to Japan and not learn patience. You have to or you’ll blow a fuse.”
Vogelsong said he experienced “culture shock” when he arrived in Japan. Simple tasks such as ordering a slice of pizza were difficult because he did not speak the language. Eventually he became more comfortable and grew to like his time in Japan. He praised American teammates Andy Sheets and Jeff Williams, both Japanese league veterans, for their support.
Vogelsong spent two seasons with the Hanshin Tigers and one with the Orix Blue Wave. He worked as a starter and a reliever. In three seasons in Japan, he was 11-14 with a 4.06 ERA in 62 games.
The right-hander believes he found himself as a pitcher during his time Japan.
“The whole thing was a great experience,” he said. “From a baseball standpoint, it made me learn to coach myself. You can’t rely on others to fix your mechanics. The translators speak English, but that doesn’t mean they know baseball. It’s English out of a book.
“And in Japan, you have to be your own judge and be honest with yourself because when you’re bad (team officials) will tell you you’re worse than you are, and when you’re good they’ll say you’re better than you are. It’s just the way things are.”
Though the game is the same, there are some major differences between baseball in the States and baseball in Japan.
Outdoor fields in Japan have skinned infields, no grass. And those pitcher’s mounds?
“There’s no clay in them and they don’t pack them,” Vogelsong said. “They throw a pile of dirt on the ground and that’s the mound. I hurt my shoulder the first year because I was pretty much pitching off mush. Imagine going to the beach and building a mound. It’s like pitching in powder. That was the biggest adjustment.”
Japanese umpires know who the foreign pitchers are and, according to Vogelsong, the strike zone mysteriously shrinks when a foreigner takes the mound. That’s OK, Vogelsong said, it sharpens your control.
“The baseball is cut-throat,’’ he said. “It’s put up or shut up.”
He learned that his first season.
“In ’07, I was 2-0 with a 1-something ERA,” said Vogelsong, recalling a start he had made. “We won a game, 3-1. I pitched six innings, gave up an unearned run and walked four. After the game, everyone was happy and feeling good about the win. I didn’t pitch my best, but we won.”
He received a tap on the shoulder and was summoned into a meeting with club management.
“I thought they were calling me in to say good job,” Vogelsong said. “Then they said, ‘Put a shirt on.’ I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. Something’s going on.’ They said, `We’re sending you to the minors. The manager feels you need to work on your command.’ “
Vogelsong balked. He believed the demotion was unwarranted. Eventually the club changed its mind and he stayed in the majors – until the next season, when he was briefly farmed out.
“I got sent out the next season,” he said. “I believe that was because of the previous year. They wanted to show me who was boss.”
In Japan, the manager is the boss. Seldom does a native Japanese manager interact with his players.
“The manager never talks to the players and he makes all the decisions on player personnel,” Vogelsong said. “There’s a GM and a president, but the manager makes all the decisions on player personnel and you don’t talk to the manager.”
That’s a lot different than life with the Phillies. Manager Charlie Manuel, who was a star player in Japan, regularly walks through the clubhouse and passes the time with players.
Manuel is looking forward to taking a look at Vogelsong in exhibition play. While working as a scout for the Phils in 2003 and 2004, Manuel saw Vogelsong pitch in the majors.
“I always liked his arm,” Manuel said. “His command was a little off, but that’s one of the things they work on in Japan, so I’m interested to see how he does. So far he’s thrown the ball well.”
As enriching an experience as his three seasons in Japan was, Vogelsong is thrilled to be back in the States with a chance to pitch in the major leagues again.
“Going over there made me appreciate what I had and want to get it back,” he said.