I have lamented how the last series of the MLB season didn’t contain much drama, which it’s supposed to. Sure, the Phillies clinched a playoff spot on Monday, and there was some seeding to sort out, but overall the last three games of the season passed by in a vacuum, kind of befitting the weekday nights the season is strangely ending on. This could have been a time for baseball to grab everyone’s attention, as it wouldn’t be competing with college football and the NFL for the season’s climax. The last day, with teams just either playing out the string or resting for the upcoming playoffs, almost passed as if not trying to wake anyone up on a Wednesday afternoon.
And yet, the alluring power of baseball is that on any stage, at any time, it can give you something that reminds you of the way it can ring an emotional tuning fork, unlike any other sport. Maybe it’s because of the individual nature of it, everyone gets an at-bat, and everyone gets a chance to sink or swim. Maybe it’s the pace of the game, where drama can build between every pitch. Maybe it’s something I can’t quite get a hold of, which is why I can never let go.
Stephen Vogt is hardly a household name. He’s a two-time All-Star, which is not to be sneezed at, but he was hardly ever the best player on a team, or at least not the best player on a good team. But there is something about Vogt that was extremely Oakland A’s, harkening back to their turn-of-the-century, burly, hairy men era who were too busy having too much fun to realize the team was supposed to be too broke to compete.
It’s easy to become attached to a catcher, mostly because the job seems so unpleasant most of the time. I don’t even like doing three sets of squats in an air-conditioned gym. So spending six months in a squat in the heat (or cold of the Bay, as it is in this case) while wearing gear borders on a war crime in my mind. It’s a constant reminder of dedication to the sport. And there’s an everyman quality to Vogt, due in part to his everyman build.
There’s probably a player on every team, a tier or two below the team’s stars, that is the fan’s favorite. In hockey, they call him a glue guy. In basketball, he’s a role player. They always seem to get their own chants (Vogt was no different), and perhaps we flock to them because they remind us just how fucking hard all this is. We love watching the stars who make it look easy, and simply wonder how it could look like that. And then there’s the guy we know had to grind it out every day, is only a bad month or so from losing his job, and looks like he might sweat while he eats.
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Vogt spent parts of seven seasons in the minors before getting his everyday job with the A’s. He was 29 before earning a regular MLB role. He didn’t have an artist’s interpretation of a swing, leaning much more into the “looking like he’s taking out the drywall while demoing a house.” After all that work, Vogt did scratch out those two All-Star seasons, though after one contender window had shut for the A’s and before another had opened. When Stephen Vogt is your All-Star representative, you know things aren’t great.
Vogt had been on a bit of an odyssey the past few years, playing for four different teams in four seasons and missing all of 2018 with a shoulder injury. But he returned to Oakland this year, for what would be his final season.
Yesterday was his final game, and if having his kids announce his first AB wasn’t adorable enough, this was his last at-bat in the Majors:
A’s fans don’t have much, and whatever they do have their owner is hellbent on taking away. The A’s were morose this year, and may be for quite some time, if the team even stays in Oakland. But yesterday they still had Vogt, a favorite of theirs, and a link to when things weren’t so bad. And just for a few moments, there wasn’t a happier fanbase on Earth. There wasn’t a happier person on Earth. Look what it meant to Vogt, his teammates, and his fans.
No other sport like baseball can convince you there is some sort of inexplicable force at work, pulling strings on everyone. That can go both ways, but it’s so enriching when it goes the good way.
Maybe it’s that we all dream of homering in our last AB. And we got to watch someone do it in Stephen Vogt, someone who really wasn’t supposed to be there at all.
How can you not be romantic about baseball?