At peak of career, Vogelsong takes nothing for granted
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Baseball, at last. It was back with us on Saturday, fans of the reigning World Series champion Giants soaking up the Scottsdale Stadium rays on a San Francisco-like, 59-degree day while soaking in the sights and sounds of the game of games.
The first pitch of Cactus League play -- a strike to Angels shortstop Andrew Romine -- fittingly was delivered by Ryan Vogelsong, a man who threw so many big ones for the Giants in October during their remarkable run to a second championship in three years.
The Giants prevailed, 4-1, making all the right plays and doing all the small-ball things that add up handsomely over the long season. Vogelsong's two scoreless innings out of the chute had manager Bruce Bochy beaming.
"I thought he was good first time out," Bochy said. "He threw 30, 31 pitches, got his work in, used all of his pitches. That's a good start for him, to get two solid innings."
Intensely driven in contrast to the cool style of fellow starters Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito, Vogelsong is as representative of who the Giants are as any of the others -- from the good-natured Panda at third, Pablo Sandoval, to the indispensable Buster Posey behind the plate to the pro's pro, Marco Scutaro, at second.
Not that you can tell by the man's words or actions.
Having achieved recognition at last as a Major League force with his star turn in the postseason, Vogelsong refused to take bows, choosing instead to focus on how he can get better at age 35 in his 16th professional season.
"No, I'll never feel like that," Vogelsong said, having been asked if he finally felt he'd arrived. "It's part of what gives me my edge. You get too complacent, you lose it. I need to keep my edge. I always can improve. That was my focus this winter -- making myself better."
This drive to keep pushing takes physical and mental forms, he maintained.
"Like staying focused for an entire inning," he said. "Sometimes you get two quick outs and have a tendency to relax. That's a mentality you have to get used to in Spring Training. On both sides, there's always room for improvement. Mentally, I need to try to be as close to the first game of the season as I can be."
Having yielded two singles and a walk facing an Angels lineup devoid of big names, Vogelsong came away content that he's where he needs to be at this early stage of camp.
"Everything I wanted to do, I did," he said. "I'm trying to treat it like it's the regular season -- especially with the WBC [World Baseball Classic] coming. I want to get my mind to work the way I want during the regular season."
The distinction of dealing for Team USA in the upcoming Classic -- he's scheduled to face Italy on March 9 in Phoenix -- has to be another form of validation for a guy who has worn 15 professional uniforms, including two in Japan, and pitched 461 games.
The 16th uniform, red, white and blue, is sure to bring a unique meaning. Athletes appearing in international competitions such as the Olympics invariably are moved by the sensation of wearing their nation's letters and colors.
"I think about it a lot," Vogelsong said. "It's something I'm excited about. I can't wait for it to get here and find out what it feels like. I'm sure it's going to be a tremendous feeling ... representing my country well, my family well, myself well."
Vogelsong is looking forward to absorbing whatever he can from Team USA pitching coach Greg Maddux, one of the best and smartest ever to ply the trade.
A fifth-round Giants Draft pick in 1998 out of Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, Vogelsong has gone 27-16 the past two seasons as one of Bochy's sturdy starters.
Exposed to postseason pressures for the first time after going 14-9 with a 3.37 ERA in 31 regular-season starts, he took care of business against the Reds, Cardinals and Tigers, yielding just three earned runs in 24 2/3 innings.
In Game 3 of the National League Division Series, the Giants one loss from winter, Vogelsong kept the Reds quiet for 5 1/3 innings in what became a 2-1 win.
He stayed in prime form in the NL Championship Series, outdueling St. Louis' Chris Carpenter in Games 2 and 6 as the Giants prevailed in seven, erasing a 3-1 series deficit.
Game 3 of the World Series in Detroit was another Vogelsong showcase: 5 2/3 innings of shutout ball in a 2-0 victory, paving the way for Matt Cain's clinching triumph.
That brand of performance under pressure has been known to leave guys shouting from the rooftops. Vogelsong is more comfortable in the weight room and studying video, doing everything possible to keep the good work -- and vibes -- flowing.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.