The Last Laugh

The Pirates-Padres game played on August 3, 2005 at PNC Park sticks out for a couple of reasons for me.

First, I got my first ball ever on my own during batting practice. Standing in the last row above the Clemente seats, Padre (and ex-Pirate) Brian Giles demolished a homer right at me. Without my glove I took my hat off but misjudged the ball. It hit off my thumb holding my hat. I was able to scarf it up, and the stitches embedded in my thumb were a cool battle scar.

The only thing I remember about the game was Brad “Big Country” Eldred hit a walk-off double in what was one of his first major league games (turned out to be the highlight of his career).

The game got done and my dad was off the next day at work. He had the briliant idea, “Let’s stay and see if we can get autographs outside the player garage.”

I certainly said yes, as I really wanted my first ball signed. We began the wait on the Mazeroski Way cul-de-sac hoping for players to stop. One by one they drove by: Darryl Ward with his tinted windows and blue headlights, Jack Wilson with his kids in the back seat, the hero of the night Brad Eldred driving a beat up Toyota pick up truck waiting for his first paycheck. Nobody bothered signing. That was until a Jeep Wrangler pulled up to the group of eight or so gathered. Down came the window, and the man behind the wheel was pitcher Ryan Vogelsong.

Vogelsong, the proverbial 25th man on the Buccos during the Littlefield era, he came to the team in a trade, along with Armando Rios, that sent Jason Schmitt to the Giants. Schmitt went on to have a very successful career including a Cy Young Award. Rios never lived up to the promise as a bat the Pirates needed to protect Giles, and Vogelsong spent the bulk of his days in the back of the bullpen as one of the many symbols of incompetency in the front office. When you checked into a game on the radio and heard Vogelsong was in, chances was the game was out of hand.

Anyway, he couldn’t have been kinder. He signed for every fan and his girlfriend sitting next to him didn’t care either (that’s usually a big reason why players don’t stop to sign after games).

When I got home, I prominently displayed the ball next to the Barry Bonds and Willie Stargell autographed balls on the shelf in our basement. It ended up being an inside joke among my brothers and dad. Vogelsong throws a scoreless inning down 7-0, that ball is now worth a whole 50 cents. 49 cents for the material, one cent for the autograph.

Ryan was let go by the Pirates following the 2006 season, having posted an ERA over 6.00 three out of the four seasons with the team. He then began a strange journey that saw him play three years for the Hashin Tigers and Orix Buffalos of the Nippon Professional League in Japan. Despite being 31 years old, an age that players usually see decline in both skill and interest from Major League clubs, he refused to give up.

After spending parts of the 2010 season as “organizational depth” in the minor league systems of the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Prior to the 2011 season he signed with the team that drafted him, the San Francisco Giants without anyone noticing.

I don’t really need to tell you the rest of the story, you probably know it already. One thing that I will look forward to on Tuesday is hearing Joe Buck announce the name of 33-year-old first time All-Star  Ryan Vogelsong. He will most likely tip his hat to the crowd, something I along with the rest of Baseball Nation should do toward him.

And Ryan go ahead and make a joke about me.

Chances are I would have given up a long time ago.

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About suhlmann12
journalism student at Ohio University. Huge fan of Pittsburgh sports teams

One Response to The Last Laugh

  1. i give him lots of credit…he could have packed it in but he kept fighting and things turned around. cudos

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