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Tampa Bay Rays character Stephen Vogt seeks to be backup catcher

Three years after sustaining a serious shoulder injury, Stephen Vogt has a chance to make the Rays’ opening day roster.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Three years after sustaining a serious shoulder injury, Stephen Vogt has a chance to make the Rays’ opening day roster.

PORT CHARLOTTE — Manager Joe Maddon believes charismatic catcher Stephen Vogt has a future in show business, saying the two-time team talent show winner is capable of "doing movies with Chris Rock at some point."

The big screen will have to wait, however, as Vogt, 27, has rejuvenated a baseball career nearly derailed in 2009 by a right shoulder injury. Knowing he would have to start over, Vogt said he seriously considered walking away from the game.

But now Vogt, the reigning Rays minor-league player of the year, is competing for the second catcher spot, making impressions on the field in big-league camp that mean more than his impressions off it.

"Every once in a while, I really think about it. And it's one of those things like, 'Wow! Look at what I've gone through!' " Vogt said. "Rewind two years ago, and I'm just trying to make it through minor-league camp and not get released. It's pretty cool."

Vogt, a 12th-round pick in 2007 out of Azusa Pacific University, was just starting his third pro season when while with Class A Charlotte, he slid awkwardly into home, separating his shoulder.

"It was definitely a rough feeling," he said.

Vogt had surgery in May 2009 and couldn't throw or hit for eight months. That summer, he called contacts he had at colleges, lining up a couple of coaching gigs.

When Vogt had a setback in January 2010, he thought it was over. But his wife, Alyssa, a basketball coach at Evergreen State (in Olympia, Wash.), convinced him to give it another try. That advice paid off as the Rays stuck with him, and he came through with a career-high .345 average for Charlotte in 2010.

"I had to fight for playing time at 25 years old in high A," Vogt said. "I was fortunate to just have a job. Most people in my shoes would have been going home."

Vogt, after hitting .298 between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham last year, received the minor-league player of the year award Sept. 26 at Tropicana Field. But he missed the birth of his daughter, Payton, who arrived the next day (a few weeks early) in Washington.

"My daughter giving me headaches from the start," he said with a smile. "But I'd do it the same way over again."

Vogt still does his impressions, most notably of Maddon. In an eight-minute film sparked earlier this month by first baseman Carlos Peña, Vogt wore his Buddy Holly glasses, mimicked Maddon's mannerisms and used big words such as "resplendent."

Vogt has done impressions since he was 12, saying his favorite actor, the late Chris Farley, inspired him. He started by quoting movie lines and now has a "big repertoire of coaches and people in my life."

But Vogt would rather the focus be on the field, where he has worked his way into being a dark horse to back up Jose Molina. With the team's focus on defense and the second catcher potentially starting about 80 games, it would seem unlikely Vogt gets the spot.

But Vogt is a lot closer than he was a few years ago, appreciative of every day he's in big-league camp. And now the talk is more about catching than comedy.

"I want to change (from) I'm the impressions guy to the player (who) by the way, 'He does impressions, too,' " Vogt said. "Instead of the other way around."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com.

Tampa Bay Rays character Stephen Vogt seeks to be backup catcher 03/15/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 15, 2012 10:10pm]
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