Vogelsong's secret motivator

Vogelsong's secret motivator
February 21, 2013, 11:00 am
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“I listened to what everyone was saying, but I never got mad about it or anything.
—Ryan Vogelsong

SCOTTSDALE, AZ. -- Ryan Vogelsong has a dirty little secret, one that would cause most normal folks to grab him by the shoulders, shake him and ask in a stern voice, “What exactly is the matter with you?”

He listens to sports talk radio. A lot. Whenever he can. And often for mere pleasure.

So yes, the question “What exactly is the matter with you?” is entirely fair and utterly justifiable.

“I don’t know why, really,” the Giants’ putative third starter said. “I’ll be in the car with my wife (Nicole), and she’ll ask me why I’d want to listen to that. I don’t know. To me, it’s just better than listening to the same songs they play on the radio every 20 seconds. It’s kind of like white noise, but I’d rather listen to people talking baseball.”

Well, there is that.

But in the job Vogelsong currently has and holds by dint of his two-year renaissance with the local ring bearers, sports talk anything is contra-indicated, and sports talk radio is right off. After all, you don’t stop drinking by making your own bathtub gin, but he volunteers to be told daily how he’s doing by people who know one-fifth as much about his craft.

And then there are the callers.

Last year, for example, he was tooling along as the Giants’ second-best starter into August. He had made the All-Star team, he had inherited the role abrogated by Tim Lincecum, and he was a bonafide feel-good story as only a San Francisco-to-Pittsburgh-to-Nashville-to-Altoona-to-Lynchburg-to-out-of-the-game-to-Indianapolis-to-Koshien-to-Osaka-to-Kobe-to-Lehigh-Valley-to-Salt-Lake-to-San-Francisco story can be.

That, in a time in which feel-good stories are mostly code for “something you’ll be ashamed to have written later.” Vogelsong was as easy a tale as there could ever be

And then he hit a results wall in August, right after shutting out the Cardinals in St. Louis, 15-0. He got cuffed around by the Nationals, Padres, Diamondbacks twice and Rockies, and his ERA meteored from 2.27 to 3.65 in seven starts. There was even speculation from his good friends at KNBR that he might be pitching his way out of the postseason rotation.

But he never hit “scan.” He listened to every word.

“It was motivation, sure,” he said. “I listened to what everyone was saying, but I never got mad about it or anything. I was pitching well, and Boch (manager Bruce Bochy) and Rags (pitching coach Dave Righetti) kept telling me I was throwing good. I was just making mistakes at the wrong moment, and my mechanics got a little out of whack. I knew I’d be fine.”

Bochy ratified this version, with one caveat. “If Timmy had gotten squared away,” he said, “Vogey was the likely guy to go to the bullpen because he was the guy who would be best at it. But it wouldn’t be because we thought he was losing it.”

As it turned out, he put together three strong outings at season’s end, two against San Diego and one in the season finale against the Dodgers, and then pitching the vital third game of the NL Division series against Cincinnati, winning Games 2 and 6 of the NL Championship Series against St. Louis, and Game 3 of the World Series in Detroit.

“That’s the thing about them,” Vogelsong said. “They tell you square, and they don’t, like, turn on you. They know what they’re seeing, and they were telling me everything they saw, and that things were fine. They did that with everybody.”

But his radio family was asking hard questions based on incomplete information, as is the rule in all such media. And still he listened.

“I heard a lot of, ‘Has the magic finally run out?’ and ‘Is he finally done?’ and stuff like that,” Vogelsong said. “I didn’t really get mad about it or get down. I knew the deal. I just liked listening to it.”

He especially liked listening to it after the postseason, because there is no ambiguity about 3-0, 1.09, 1.05 WHIP, or the Lamborghini headlight ring that comes with it. The bad doesn’t seem so bad, and the good is tell-the-grandkids stuff.

Of course, Vogelsong is 35 now, and given that and his travels and travails as a player, he is better trained at separating the nonsense from the insight from the new round of nonsense. Most players don’t like being interviewed, let alone being psychoanalyzed second-hand. Him? He’s all in on the blatherfest.

“If I’m at home and in the car, I’m listening,” he said. “On the road, I get my MLB radio fix. The best time of the year for me is always right before the winter meetings and the trade deadline. It’s fun to hear where everybody thinks people are going. I just get a kick out of it.”

There isn’t as much radio time for him these days. He is prepping for his turn with the U.S. team at the World Baseball Classic, while getting ready for his third season of his second stay with the Giants. He has defined the WBC almost as a bookmark that helps him move past 2012 and into 2013 with a useful intermediate step.

But once he has completed his spring work, he will return north and return to being the guy who knows Doug from Millbrae and Jose from Castro Valley and The DumpTruck from Gilroy. They’ll straighten him out but good.

And maybe one day when the 101 is particularly enraged at those upon it, he might even call in: “Hi, this is Ryan from Foster City, and I want to complain about that swine Buster Posey.”

You know . . . just to see if any of his teammates are listening on the down-low.