Programming note: The "Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards" -- featuring Bay Area stars Stephen Vogt, Stephen Curry, Hunter Pence, Derek Carr, Torrey Smith and Tara VanDerveer -- will air on Jan. 31 at 7:30pm on CSN Bay Area and at 11pm on CSN California.
Stephen Vogt’s leadership skills mean as much to the A’s as his skills behind the plate.
He’s a calming presence when a nerve-rattled pitcher finds trouble on the mound. If things spiral downward for his team, Vogt is the one who stands before the media and projects the confidence that better days are just around the corner.
Those are inherited qualities, passed down from the man who stressed that playing the game right was as important as playing the game well. Randy Vogt coached Stephen and his older brother Danny from the time they could pick up a bat all the way through high school. The values he imparted still resonate with Stephen, the A’s catcher who is coming off the first All-Star season of his major league career.
The primary lesson passed down from Randy was that “if you put every one of your teammates ahead of yourself, you will be successful,” Vogt said. “I’ve kind of played my career, lived my life that way. … All you can control is playing 100 percent for your teammates. That’s something he taught me from an early age.”
On Tuesday night, Vogt will honor his father during CSN Bay Area’s “Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards” ceremony in San Francisco, an event that spotlights the most influential coaching figures in the lives of some of the Bay Area’s top athletes. Coaching Corps is an organization, founded by former A’s owner Wally Haas, that provides coaches and sports programs for kids living in underserved communities.
Randy Vogt recognized very early on Stephen’s passion for sports. When his older brother was playing T-ball, Stephen would drag equipment out to the family’s front lawn and stage his own game.
He was only 3 or 4 at the time.
“After Danny went to school, my wife (Toni) said Stephen would go out, open the garage door, grab that bag and set helmets and bats up,” Randy said. “He’d get the plastic bases I had, put those out and play a phantom game. He’d pretend he was hitting, run around the bases, then get his glove and pretend he was pitching to the other team.”
As the years unfolded, that passion was reciprocated. Randy, who worked as a CPA near the family’s home in Visalia, would wake up at 3am and make the commute to his office, just so he could be home by 3pm to coach his sons.
“Then he’d go to bed and do it all over again,” Vogt said. “It meant a lot to me and my brother -- maybe not enough at that time. But now, being a father, you see the sacrifices … his impact.”
Randy, a left-hander who pitched on the 1976 Fresno State baseball team, eventually became the head coach at Central Valley Christian High School. He said his biggest thrill coaching was when he got to pencil in Stephen as his freshman leadoff hitter, with Danny anchoring the lineup as a senior No. 3 hitter.
Though the eldest Vogt drilled his players on the game’s fundamentals, the over-arching lesson was to respect the game properly.
“You’ll never have a coach that shows a love of the game and gets his players to respect and love the game (more),” Vogt said. “We had to have clean shoes, had to have our pants up. We definitely played the game the right way.”
Added Randy: “To me, sports is a microcosm of life. There are so many things in sports that are life lessons. You learn to be unselfish. You learn to play and work with others. The people I think are most successful are the ones who are unselfish.”
Such wisdom has stuck with Vogt through trying times in his career. He spent five full seasons in the minors before getting his first call-up with Tampa Bay at age 27. Then he opened with an 0-for-32 streak, the second-longest career-opening hitless streak by a non-pitcher since 1973. After being part of Oakland’s 2013 postseason run, Vogt received a jolt in spring 2014 when he was among the A’s final roster cuts before Opening Day. He couldn’t hide his emotion as he packed his belongings for the minors.
As always, Vogt drew strength from picking up the phone and calling his father, who reminded him he needed to work just as hard in Triple-A as he did in the majors. A season later, Vogt’s parents were in the stands in Cincinnati as he played in his first All-Star Game.
“Nothing ever has come easy for me, I love that about it,” Vogt said. “If it wasn’t for the support of my family, guidance from my dad at an early age … It’s easy to get down on yourself when it’s not going right. At the end of the day, if it was easy, everyone would do it. Those are things he would constantly say.”