The 2019 Giants had so many needs. Rarely can a backup catcher fill so many of those boxes.
But Stephen Vogt caught – a lot, in another down season for Buster Posey, a position that became more timeshare than starter/fill-in.
He played left field because his left-handed bat (.263/.314/.490) was among the few to make noise in a quiet offense.
In a season that has been about the passing of the baton from one group to the next, from veterans to younger options, the Giants had a 34-year-old player/coach, one who aspires to be a manager one day, a dream that seemed awfully close last year, when shoulder surgery finished his season before it began and he wondered if it had finished his career, too. Those fears were not realized.
You could say Stephen Vogt was tailor-made for this Giants team, a joke that will make more sense shortly.
“I don’t think words really can explain it,” Tyler Beede said.
It is with the green ones that Vogt, a free agent after this season, made his presence most felt. And if adjectives won’t do, how about some Vogt stories to capture what one veteran can mean for a learning team?
The Giants were in LA when a trio of rookies – Beede, Shaun Anderson and Mike Yastrzemski – were called into Vogt’s hotel room.
“He just said, ‘Hey, we got a suit fitting at this time tomorrow,’” Anderson remembered. “I was like, ‘Suit fitting for who?’ He was like, ‘For you guys.’”
Anderson tried to fight at first, telling him there’s no need.
“He said, ‘No, it’s my pleasure, you guys earned it and deserve it.’”
About two weeks later, the suits came, and the three rookies together wore them for their next road trip. Anderson previously had one suit, but only from Aramis Garcia’s wedding. Yastrzemski’s lone one was from his own wedding. They were in the major leagues now. They had to start looking the part.
It’s a tradition Vogt learned when he was a wide-eyed youngster, a rookie anointed by veterans.
“He always made sure that whenever he had the means to do it or he was in a position to buy a suit for a rookie, he would do it,” Beede said. “And his only thing in return he wants from us is to pay it forward to the next rookie that comes up when we’re in his position to do the same thing. He just has a passion for keeping the positive traditions in baseball going, and you need a guy like that, you know?”
The tradition will not die with Vogt.
“When we’re in his position, we’ll do it,” Beede said.
Anderson was frustrated. He couldn’t sleep. He just had a poor July start against the Padres and lay in his hotel bed. He sent Vogt a text.
It was midnight, but Vogt was up. He told him to journey over a few doors.
The two had spent time together at the beginning of the season at Triple-A Sacramento. They were now a pair trying to prove they belonged (or still belonged) in the major leagues.
For a few hours, they talked about everything.
“Til about 2 or 3 in the morning,” Anderson said. “Just talking baseball, talking his experiences, talking pitching, talking catching. Talking his offseason goals this past offseason, getting his arm right after surgery. Just talking about my thought process in pitching.”
There was a game the next day. It did not matter.
“That meant so much to me. That kind of opened up my whole world of pitching,” said the 24-year-old rookie. “Him just taking the time out, the few hours just so I could debrief from my outing and he could talk to me about what he saw and what he can look forward to the next coming years — I really got to know who he was.”
Who Vogt is is a baseball player who has been and seen everything. He’s been an All-Star twice. He’s been cut three times. He’s been left for (baseball) dead on an operating table, his 2018 shoulder surgery jeopardizing a career he had to resuscitate in Sacramento.
“I’ve been all over the map,” Vogt said. “If there’s any experience that I’ve been through that I can relate to a guy with, of course I want to try to help him get through it faster than it took me to get through it. I wish I would have had more people in my life that would come talk to me when I was struggling. I had people – it’s not like no one would ever help me, a lot of people helped me. So that’s what you do.”
He knows about struggling. Especially upon debuting.
Vogt got his call-up with the Rays in 2012. In 25 at-bats, he registered zero hits, and the season ended. In the offseason, he was dealt to Oakland, where he was stuck in the minors until June. It took three more games for him to record his first real, major league hit.
So as he watched Jaylin Davis sputter, a toolsy outfielder with so much potential who admitted he was pressing, Vogt had flashbacks.
Vogt pulled him aside while the Giants were playing the Braves.
“He was like, ‘Hey, I know we don’t talk too much, but I know you put a lot of pressure on yourself. When I first came up, I struggled, too,’” Davis said. “He just said to go out there and have fun. He was like, ‘When you’re up there, everyone in the dugout is just waiting for you to do something. … We’re waiting for you to have your first moment.’”
The next week, the struggling rookie stepped into a ninth-inning curveball, sending it deep into the San Francisco night, rounding the bases for a walk-off homer. Vogt was just one of the dozens waiting at home plate for Davis’ first moment.
Mike Yastrzemski thought he was a goner. Mostly because the Giants told him he was, most likely, gone.
He went 0-for-5 July 14 against the Brewers, dropping him to .227/.279/.398 in his first 40 games in the majors after 6 1/2 seasons in the minors. He was told he likely would not be heading to Colorado the next day with the rest of the Giants, a minor league demotion coming.
Vogt’s text that night: “Is the ceiling staring back at you?” It was.
“He said, ‘Don’t worry about it. I’ve been there plenty of times,’” Yastrzemski said. “He got me to realize that there’s tomorrow.
“He said, ‘I had a feeling you needed someone to just let you know things are going to be OK.’ I needed that at the time. I never had to ask. He just knew.”
The Giants had a change of heart, and Yastrzemski tore up Coors Field like few before him. A major league future is now staring back at him.