Major League Marriage

by Joe Reinsch

Soaked in orange Gatorade®, face covered with celebratory shaving cream, Stephen Vogt ’07 (pronounced “vote”) felt exhilarated after delivering the game-winning hit for the Oakland Athletics in Game 2 of the 2013 American League Division Series.

But he didn’t feel complete. So he scanned the stands filled with 48,292 frantic fans, as he does after every game, until his eyes rested on the ones that matter most—his wife, Alyssa (Ferdaszewski ’07), and two-year-old daughter, Payton. Giving them a wave and a smile, he headed into the clubhouse sure about his purpose and grounded in his perspective.

That small gesture is his way of acknowledging Alyssa’s sacrifices that allow him to pursue his dream of playing professional baseball at the highest level. The life of a baseball family, although certainly adventurous, requires a level of sacrifice the Vogts know well. For six years, Stephen spent his summers on the East Coast climbing up the minor league ladder for the Tampa Bay Rays, who drafted him out of Azusa Pacific in 2007. He readily admits he could not have handled the ups and downs of the sport without encouragement and coaching from Alyssa, a basketball player and fellow student-athlete he met at APU.

Just three years prior to his spectacular playoff performance, Stephen almost gave up his dream when a rotator cuff injury ended his third pro season after just 10 games. Alyssa convinced him otherwise, and he came back from the injury with the best season of his young career. In 2011, the same year his daughter was born, the Rays named him their Minor League Player of the Year, and in 2012, he found himself on Tampa Bay’s Major League Opening Day roster. However, he wasn’t able to translate his minor league success into Major League production, going hitless in 25 MLB at-bats in 2012. Tampa Bay demoted him on Easter Sunday, just before the start of the 2013 season.

“As I headed back home, I wondered how I would be able to provide for my family without baseball,” said Stephen. But he did not have to wonder long. Less than a week later, the Oakland Athletics completed a trade for the 28-year-old rookie catcher, and Vogt made the most of his second chance.

In his first game with Oakland’s Triple-A minor league team, he collected three hits. In fact, he kept his batting average above .400 more than a month into the season, and when Oakland needed a one-week injury replacement in late June, they decided to see what Vogt could do. In his third start, he got his long-awaited first big-league hit, a solo home run to right field that took care of another career first.

The A’s won all four games he started in his brief call-up, and less than a month later he returned to the big leagues for good. He kept hitting, and the A’s kept winning, going 26-13 in games started by Vogt, who hit .252 with four home runs on the year. His performance earned him a role as the starting catcher for all five games of Oakland’s playoff series with the eventual American League champion Detroit Tigers, and he seized his playoff opportunity in Game 2. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning of a scoreless pitchers’ duel, Vogt deposited a 1-1 pitch from Rick Porcello up the middle to deliver a walk-off victory that tied the playoff series.

Despite Stephen’s newfound status as a baseball star, the Vogts know that such things are fleeting. “We thought when he made it to the big leagues our life would change in an instant, but we still change diapers and go without sleep like any other parents,” said Alyssa. “What helps is the great support from our college coaches who model the priority of keeping family first.” The Vogts rely on the friendships they developed at Azusa Pacific and continue to make annual visits to the campus to reconnect with the people who played a vital role in shaping their college experience, and to pass their experiences on to the next generation of Azusa Pacific students.

Stephen considers his wife’s model of sacrifice as a game plan for himself when someday his playing career runs its course and he gets the honor of returning the favor. Alyssa looks at her husband’s hard work and love of the game and knows that she would not change a moment of their journey to this place and time. “Stephen’s career is my career, his life is my life, and our family is my career,” said Alyssa. “There’s no other job I’d want to do right now.”

Together, they know that the future holds plenty of promise, with or without baseball.

Originally published in the Spring '14 issue of APU Life. Download the PDF or view all issues.