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Daniel Vogelbach spent most of the last three summers playing minor league baseball in Tacoma, and biding his time.
A midseason acquisition by the Seattle Mariners organization in 2016, he enjoyed the ride as the Rainiers wrapped up a Pacific Coast League title that year. When Tacoma hosted the Triple-A All-Star Game the following season, he earned a nod, and slugged a few baseballs out of Cheney Stadium in the Home Run Derby.
He got sporadic opportunities with the Mariners during the past three seasons, but mostly as a backup, and his stays with the big league club never lasted long. So, he waited and tried to keep the same positive outlook each time he was shipped back to the minors — “wherever your feet are, you just perform.”
“It’s what I tried to do last year as much as I could,” Vogelbach said. “I just continued to believe that when I (did) get an opportunity, I (was) going to take full advantage of it.”
This spring, Seattle’s management vowed he would get about 350-400 plate appearances. And Vogelbach has taken full advantage of his chance to play.
He’s clubbed a team-high 21 homers while compiling a slash line of .238/.375/.505 and collecting 51 RBIs and 61 walks. It was a performance that earned him the right to be the Mariners’ lone representative at this season’s All-Star Game, which will be played Tuesday in Cleveland.
“Now that we’ve been able to back up our words and give him the opportunity, he’s taken it and run with it,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said.
Servais acknowledges the patience Vogelbach had to display — and not just the type he exhibits in the batter’s box — to get where he is now. Vogelbach was a September call-up in 2016, and logged just 13 plate appearances. That number grew to 31 in 2017 and then 102 in five separate stints last year.
“It’s very hard,” Servais said about young players dealing with limited at-bats. “Often times you’ll just see guys throw their hands up. ‘They don’t care about me’ or ‘I’ve got no chance here.’ They just roll over and don’t put up numbers. To Vogey’s credit, he never did that.
“He wasn’t happy about it. He’s not jumping up and down like, ‘Great. They found somebody else to take my job.’ He was not that way at all, but I credit him for not letting it get in the way. Once the game starts, he knows he’s got a job to do, and he really didn’t get away from doing what he does, which is getting good pitches to hit.”
The patience and the power the burly left-hander has shown at the plate throughout his career reminds Servais somewhat of former Indians slugger Jim Thome, a Hall of Famer who collected 612 career homers and was an on-base machine.
Vogelbach is similar in that he’s selective at the plate, doesn’t have a habit of chasing balls outside of the strike zone, and will crush a good, mind-blowing home run every few games.
“I’ve always prided myself in not striking out,” said Vogelbach, who has a 79-61 strikeout-to-walk ratio at the break. “I’ve always said, ‘You can’t score runs if you’re not on base,’ and I’m just trying to put the ball in play, and get a pitch that I can handle.”
If he doesn’t get that pitch, he rarely swings, and when he does get it, the damage he can do is thrilling.
“It’s been very effective,” Servais said. “It’s working for him. A lot of what he does rubs off on guys. How he goes through an at-bat, how he studies the pitching, how they’re going to pitch him.
“He makes the people around him better as well. He certainly makes them more aware of what’s going on through his constant banter. Which I appreciate. I think it’s great. You need those guys in the dugout. He’s one of them.”
Vogelbach’s remarkable rise in the 85 games he’s played, and big personality and stature, has made him a fan favorite and a respected voice in the clubhouse.
Servais quipped earlier this week that Vogelbach has a comment for every subject that comes up, and he has a confidence and swagger that Servais admires.
There might only be one conversation the two have had this season that didn’t spark a vocal, witty response.
“You don’t often see Vogey speechless,” Servais said. “When I pointed at him (in a meeting) and said, ‘Our All-Star is you,’ he just sat back. I’m sure he was very hopeful that he’d get the nod, but when the rest of his teammates asked him to get up and give a speech, he really didn’t have much to say — which is shocking.
“He’ll be a great representative for the Mariners, and knowing Vogey, will probably do something a little crazy over there just to keep everybody on their toes, and he’ll have a million stories to tell when he gets back. It will be a great experience for him. He’s earned it.”