Sogard enjoying Major 'face' time with Athletics
Second baseman's popularity with fans on rise during MLB competition
PHOENIX -- In his mind, Eric Sogard is more like a heart than anything else. Out of sight, but always working.
Yet over the past month, the typically low-profile second baseman has been anything but anonymous. His fans and teammates have made sure of that, transforming the relatively unknown player into an internet sensation and the "face" of the A's.
Sogard's sprint to stardom began in January, when fans surprisingly voted him as the A's nominee for MLB Network's "The Face of MLB" competition, a Twitter-driven bracket-style tournament pitting one player from each club against each other. Sogard, the most unlikely entrant into the contest given his limited big league résumé, has since blown past his first three opponents, garnering 57 percent of the vote to defeat Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo before receiving a whopping 69 percent to top Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki before defeating Giants catcher Buster Posey to win a spot in the semifinals.
Often drawing inspiration from Sogard's trademark glasses and the "Nerd Power" movement that grew out of the spectacles, A's players and fans alike have taken social media sites by storm with clever words of support, and even more clever superimposed pictures of the 27-year-old in famous pop-culture film posters and scenes to promote their man.
"The fans have been absolutely crazy with their support," Sogard said, smiling. "And I appreciate that for sure. We'll see how long I go I guess. I'm having fun with it so might as well take it the whole way."
So just who is this previously unfamiliar character and why are so many people rushing to his side? Well, if you ask anybody who has spent time around Sogard, the answer isn't too tough to figure out.
"He's truly one of my favorite of all-time," said Padres Triple-A manager Pat Murphy, who coached Sogard along with the likes of Dustin Pedroia and Andre Ethier at Arizona State. "He brought the same attitude every day, he was ready every pitch and he was just a winner. I can't say enough about him, I love the kid."
Added A's relief pitcher Jesse Chavez, "It's all about the type of character he has. He lets his talent speak for himself. He just goes out there and plays the game the right way while having fun. I think fans respond to that."
A year ago, Sogard arrived to A's camp to much less fanfare. Competing for a roster spot all spring, the second baseman wowed the club by hitting .444 in 54 Cactus League at-bats while also flashing some nice leather. The A's soon after rewarded Sogard by penciling his name into the Opening Day lineup.
Sogard ended up playing 130 games for Oakland last year, hitting .266 with 45 runs scored and 29 extra-base hits. One his most memorable games of the season came on April 28, when he scored the winning run in the 10th inning before later taking a celebratory pie to the face with his glasses still on.
"I think last year, I was able to show the team what I am capable of," Sogard said. "I put a lot of heart and passion into the game and I leave everything on the field so it was important to prove that given the opportunity, I am good enough. It was a confidence booster no doubt."
Expected to have a similar role on this year's club as part of a second base platoon, Sogard is enjoying the luxury of being able to tinker a bit this spring instead of constantly worry about securing a roster spot.
"Obviously the last few years it was an absolute battle for me not knowing where I'd end up," Sogard said. "But I think after a full season last year with what I did, I can feel a little more comfortable even though I'm not just sitting back. It's not do or die out here, so that's nice that I can work on the little things more and I think that's going to really help me."
Whether or not Sogard ends up taking home the "Face of MLB" crown, his future in the game appears bright. And that's not just for a guy who wears glasses.
"He's a sneaky phenomenal athlete," Murphy said. "You think about a Craig Counsell or a Willie Bloomquist, and I think Sogy will be around a long time just like them."
Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.