Baseball is one of those lessons in life you can learn from. If you can persevere, get through adversity, don't let obstacles stop you, your innerpower will reassert itself and life you from defeat to victory and even overcome the seemingly impossible. It is these traits that a local baseball player from Octorara showed when he saw his boyhood dream come true in being a Major League professional baseball player.Ryan Vogelsong is a testament for young kids today, that you can accomplish whatever you want to do or be through hard work, confidence, and perseverance.
Ryan's interview with me this spring before his first trip to Japan as a starting pitcher for the Hashin Tigers professional baseball team tells how he got to the pinnacle of his professional baseball career.
The 6-foot, 3-inch right hander said he went to Octorara schools and baseball was his number one sport. He played short stop and third base and would pitch as a closer during his junior year in high school; Carl Ripkin was his role model.
"I really didn't pitch too much in high school until my senior year," he said. "I think I started just about every game as a pitcher but I didn't do anything great as a starter. I knew or thought I had a good arm but when I played legion ball the year before I went to college it was the first time I saw and faced talent, besides the normal people I played baseball against.
"I got a scholarship to play baseball when I went to Kutztown University. My freshman year I played third base," he said. "I was fortunate that a couple of guys got hurt on the team and the coach needed pitching, so the coach asked me if I wanted to go on the mound to pitch. He knew I had pitched in high school. I said sure and started throwing the ball really well and people, along with scouts, started noticing me.
"My freshman year I put on 20 pounds and got physically stronger and worked on my ability to get better. That year I ended up pitching in the College Conference, where only four guys were picked to pitch. I was one of the four guys picked to pitch in the conference and I did okay pitching. My freshman year I think I won six or sever games," Ryan said.
"I came back my sophomore year and had a very good season as I went nine and two as a sophomore. That year Andy Belchure who went to Boyerstown got drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. he also went nine and two. One time, we had a double header and both pitched on the same day. I think people and scouts were coming to see Andy pitch. He pitched the first game and I pitched the second game. When they were there to see him, they saw me pitch as well," Ryan said.
"That summer I also pitched a the wooden bat Legion Quakertown Tournament where some scouts saw me pitch well there also.
"My junior year at Kutztown, I came back and put together a really nice season and then ended up getting drafted by the San Francisco Giants. I left my junior year and went to the Giants minor league for two years 1989-99. In 2000 I got called up to play in the big leagues and played with the Giants in 2001 then got traded before the year ended to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Jason Smith.
"With the Giants I was used as a bull pen relief pitcher. After they traded me to the Pirates I was a starter and a reliever, but soon after in a game with the Cincinatti Reds, I blew out my elbow and had to get Tommy John surgery. I was with the Pirates until the middle of 2006 and when my contract was up, Japan gave me a better offer to play for them in 2007. So I'm happy to go to Japan and play baseball and be a starting pitcher again," Ryan said.
I asked, now that he made it to the big leagues, was it what he thought it was all about.
"It's more," he said. "There's nothing like it!" I asked what he thought his greatest moment was. "My greatest moment for me was the first day I stepped on a major professional baseball field just knowing that I finally made it. A dream come true.
I asked what was his best game pitch. "My best game was probably against the Philadelphia Phillies in 2004 in Pittsburgh. It was the third game of the season and we had out home opener with the Phillies. I pitched game three and threw for seven innings. I pitched against Padia and beat him that day. We were in a pitching battle until the seventh inning. I had a man on third with one out and a tie game. I struck out Ricky LaDay and struck out Jimmy Rollins to end the inning. We then scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh, which gave me the win. That was so exciting," Ryan said, "that I could remember every pitch I threw. it was such a good game. I felt so good. Every pitch meant something up until the eighth inning.
I asked who was the hardest player, hitter to get out. "I struggled to get out Jim Edmonds of the St. Louis Cardinals, now with the San Diego Padres," Ryan said. "He was a tough out. He didn't just get hits off me; he got home runs all the rime. You know everybody has a guy like that. No matter what you do, you can't get him out."
I asked Ryan for his take on baseball's steriod use situation. "I'm not sure. I question how many guys really did do it," Ryan said. "It's out there. I do think some kind of punishment needs to be taken. If not, then why was it even brought up? If they are not going to do anything about it and ball players are not going to get suspended or get in trouble, then why even bring it up in the first place? Something has to be done to show people that there is going to be punishment for what you do against baseball's rules."
When asked if he had to do it all over again would he change anything, Ryan's response was, "I'm not really happy with my current numbers, or the way my career has gone so far. I wish I could go back and maybe be better, which I think is a pretty average statement to everyone's likes. Everyone wishes to do better. I wish I had done better all the way down the line, at the high school level. I wish I'd done things different in college, wish I was a better major league pitcher. I don't regret anything. It's all a learning experience and I still think I have time.
"I'm only 30 years old. I'm still working to improve myself. I plan to hopefully continue to pitch for at least 10 more years. I got time to turn my career around and do some good things. I'm looking forward to pitch in Japan because it gives me another opportunity to be a starter again. I feel I got labeled as a bull pen pitcher in the U.S. and Japan is giving me the opportunity to be a starter again. I want to come back to the big leagues in the U.S. and be labeled as a starter again. I'll work harder to get there," Ryan said.
"Before I was leaving for Japan, I had worked out every day at the United Sports Center. I feel I got better. My best pitch is my fast ball and then I have a great change up," he said.
I asked what he thought about the Phillies changes this year. "I am a Phillies fan! They've got a good team. It comes down every year to good pitching and good defense, and staying healthy. I don't think they will have trouble scoring runs. Their success will come with keeping their pitchers healthy all year."
I continued by asking who would win the World Series. "You have to go with the Boston Red Sox. They are defending World Champs. They haven't lost much and until somebody knocks them off, they are the team to beat."
I asked if he had to pick the greatest baseball player, who would it be. "If you look back at the numbers, maybe Babe Ruth, but I look more toward the greatest pitcher. I think Nolan Ryan was a great player. Some of the things he did on the mound were pretty amazing," he finished.
"And I think for all that you have accomplished in your young life, you too, are amazing," I told Ryan, as baseball had taught Ryan many lessons in his life and it can only get better.
Until next time, Ciao, Joe D'Angelo