After having missed the first week of spring training due to testing positive for COVID-19, Arizona’s catcher Stephen Vogt returned to Salt River Fields today. According to manager Torey Lovullo, Vogt is not limited in his activities, though he was told to “work at his own pace, make sure he was in a good spot and didn’t tire himself out.” [That’s something to which I can certainly relate: before my brush with COVID-19, I could typically do 25 minutes on the treadmill in the morning. Right now, half of that would be a good day, though I do feel things are trending in the right direction]. Lovullo said he saw everything Vogt did leading up to his extra batting practice today, and was happy with how he looked.
Vogt himself then spoke to the media, and it’s well worth a listen. He is an articulate, positive, and inspiring person, whom I believe has genuine leadership qualities - he will definitely be a coach, and probably even a manager someday. Unsurprisingly, the first question was how he was feeling. “I feel great,” he replied “It was really good to get out here today, get back out with the guys. It’s been a long ten days.” It does appear, fortunately, that he and his wife had a relatively mild case of COVID-19. They had some allergy/cold-like symptoms, with intermittent loss of smell and taste, but got off relatively lightly. They have no real idea where they caught it - again, I can relate to that!
Conversation then turned to baseball-related topics, and Stephen was asked if a team can have a “personality” with regard to offense. Vogt thought it was definitely possible for a team to develop an identity. “Every group of hitters that’s successful, they know what makes them great, and that goes down to you individually. Once we understand who we are, and what we can do to contribute, that’s when we can really put the pieces together, to be that unit.” With regard to the 2021 Diamondbacks, he said “This is the second year all of us have been together, the core, and we’ve added some really good pieces along with it. I’m excited to see where the offense is going to go.”
The next question was about teams that exceeded expectations, and whether there was any common aspect to them. “Fighters,” he said. “The teams that I’ve been on that have been counted out, and the way that you can come back is just to fight. Not be satisfied with just listening to the rhetoric, or just believing what you hear. Obviously, we know we’re up against it this year, we’re not blind to that. But that’s something which we can rally around, and control ourselves. Because if we go out and play the way we’re capable of every day, if I and all my team-mates can go out as individuals and compete, prepare, work and do out jobs, then I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”
Vogt was asked about whether he was making any adjustments at the plate, and admitted straight up, “I was awful last year... I did not perform up to my standards, not even close. So I went back to the drawing-board to correct some things. I was spinning on the ball, I had no adjustability in my swing whatsoever. It had to be a pitch right in the middle and I’ve never been that hitter in my career. I had some mechanical issues for the first time. I hit more this winter than I have [because] I was not satisfied whatsoever... My swing felt really good today - I’m just going to continue to build and work and get better. There’s a lot of self-evaluating that went on for me this winter.”
The question was posed of whether Vogt was worried the 10 days enforced absence would be a problem. “Absolutely. 10 days off is a long time. We don’t take ten days off very often after October. I had the ability to hit a little bit at home. But you always worry that you’re not going to feel where you left off. So for me, it was “Don’t try to feel how you felt before. Just pick back up, right when you get there, and that’s your new norm,” and then build from there. You can’t search for a feeling you used to have. You just got to continue to work from the feeling you have today, and get better from that.”
He then spoke a bit more about the mechanical issues. “When you’re in the moment, I think it’s hard to realize maybe how far it’s gotten away from you. You think that “All I need is one good hit up the middle and that’ll lock it back in.” But it’s not like every swing you’re taking is bad. You’re still taking a lot of good swings. It’s having the ability to stop and evaluate the whole body of work - not just four at-bats the night before or the last week.” Finally, he was asked how, as one of the veterans, he could identify the warning signs of a tail-spin like the team went through mid-season, and stop them from happening.
“There’s so many different things that led to that. I remember some of the lines being thrown around in that stretch, but that was such a weird three weeks. I think we lost pretty much every way we could lose. I think the communication we’ve had as a team interally was ‘Hey, we’ve got to be here for each other, no matter what. When somebody’s down, pick them up. When somebody’s high, keep them there. Just being aware of how we’re doing, being aware of our team-mates and being in constant communication... Everybody wants to do it themselves, we all want to pick the boys up. I think that’s something we can nip a little quicker than we did last year. Let’s just take a step back, do our thing, and we can start before it snowballs.”