Rays multi-purpose backup player Stephen Vogt was in the wrong place for the right reason. Twice.
04/16/2012 4:06 PM ET
Vogt enjoying stay with Rays
Reserve outfielder called up for first time on April 3
By Bruce Lowitt / MLBPLAYERS.com
On Sept. 27, 2011, he was in St. Petersburg, Fla. He'd batted a combined .345 that season with Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham. Vogt had flown in from Olympia, Wash., for an awards ceremony the previous day. He was the Rays' Minor League Player of the Year.
His wife Alyssa was expecting the couple's first child in two weeks.
"I asked Alyssa right before I left, 'Are you feeling anything?' She said, 'No signs. Go.' I went to sleep and left my cell phone on vibrate by accident."
The hotel room phone rang around 7:30 a.m. It was Vogt's wife.
"My phone had eight missed calls," Vogt said. "Alyssa said, 'I think I'm going into labor. I'd feel better if you get on a plane.'"
The earliest flight out of Tampa, Fla., didn't leave until noon. At 9:30, he spoke to his mother-in-law. Alyssa's parents were headed to the hospital.
"I said, 'Call me when you get settled.' They called around 11. I said. 'You guys get in OK?' and she said 'You're a dad. Congratulations.'
"I was upset, happy, sad, ecstatic. I'd missed my daughter's birth, but she and Alyssa were fine. Two weeks early. Who'd have thought my daughter would be giving me a headache from day one?"
On April 3, Vogt was in Durham with Alyssa and 27-week-old Payton. They'd driven 12 hours from training camp in Port Charlotte, Fla., a couple of days earlier. Now, he was preparing to catch some bullpen when a teammate tapped him on the shoulder.
"He told me, 'Get out of here. The Rays called. You're going to the big leagues.'"
Vogt flew back to Florida; Alyssa and Payton drove down. Now, Vogt is the Rays' occasional left fielder and designated hitter -- and perhaps catcher and first baseman if the opportunity arises.
He's on Tampa Bay's active roster because reserve left fielder Sam Fuld is out for a couple of months following right wrist surgery and regular left fielder Desmond Jennings has moved to center field while B.J. Upton's lower-back injury heals.
Odds are Upton will rejoin the Rays later this month and Vogt will head back to Durham, "but an experience like this is something I could have only dreamed of," Vogt said.
He earned a physical education degree at Azusa Pacific, a Christian college near Los Angeles, and was the 365th player taken in the 2007 MLB First-Year Player Draft. He was a catcher but played left field and first base once in a while to rest his knees.
"For a guy like me, playing four years at an NAIA college, getting drafted in the 12th round was a dream com true. ... My thought process has always been that if somebody gives me a chance I'll take it and make the most of it. Fortunately, the Rays gave me a chance."
That he's come this far is the result of a second chance the Rays gave him three years ago. Shoulder surgery in May 2009 cost him all but the first 10 games of his third Minor League season.
He couldn't swing a bat or throw for eight months, and when he suffered a setback the following January, he thought his career was over. But Alyssa, now on a year's hiatus from coaching basketball at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., convinced him to give playing one more shot.
He did. It paid off. The Rays' welcomed him back to the Class A Charlotte Stone Crabs in 2010. He batted a career-best .345.
That propelled Vogt to Double-A and Triple-A in 2011 where he hit a combined .298 with 17 home runs and 105 RBIs. That opened the door this year to his first Spring Training.
He batted .323 in 15 games before being optioned to the Minors in mid-March. When he was recalled the Rays sent down four-year veteran outfielder Jeff Salazar (.282 in 28 spring games).
"We just felt right now that, offensively speaking, Vogt might be able to provide a little bit more," manager Joe Maddon said. "He's not going to be Desmond Jennings in left field, but he can hold his own out there."
Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.