Peter Bourjos – Proverbs 3:5

 

Peter Bourjos

Former Los Angeles Angel’s outfielder, Peter Bourjos.  Photo by Keith Allison 

Before there was Mike Trout, there was Peter Bourjos.

 

Before Trout lit up centerfield at Angel Stadium with highlight plays, Bourjos was the exciting center fielder for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  Going into the 2010 season, he was ranked by Baseball America as the #2 prospect in the Angels system.  He made his major league debut in August that year.  His career really took off in 2011.  He hit .271 with 12 HR and 22 stolen bases.  He also tied Austin Jackson for the American League lead in triples with 11.  He appeared to have a bright future ahead of him, plaBeying for the Angels.  The 2012 Baseball Prospectus said of his spectacular defense; “Bourjos covered so much ground as a center fielder that is sometimes backfired early in the season.  His corner outfielders, unaccustomed to flanking a player with such range, sometimes weren’t giving way to Bourjos, while other times they flinched or back away at his mere approach.  The turf war ended around June, when Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells learned what we all learned; When Peter Bourjos is chasing a ball, it’s more fun to just watch.”

In 2012, the outfield in the Big A was getting full.  The Angels had All-Stars Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter manning the corners, super prospect Mike Trout slated for centerfield, and Kendrys Morales taking more of the bats at DH.  Suddenly, playing time was difficult to come by.  To make matters worse, in September, Bourjos was hit by a pitch, and suffered wrist soreness.

In 2013, Bourjos had another opportunity.  Hunter had signed with the Tigers and Morales had been traded to the Seattle Mariners for pitcher Jason Vargas, leaving the Angels outfield a lot less crowded.  Through June 29, Bourjos was batting .333, Trout was moved mostly to left field, and Bourjos was receiving regular playing time in center again.  He then, however, was hit by a pitch in his wrist again, this time breaking it.  That season would be his last in an Angel’s uniform.  In November, he was traded, along with Randal Grichuk, to the St. Louis Cardinals for third baseman David Freese and pitcher Fernando Salas.

While Bourjos may have planned on being an Angel, God had other plans.  Bourjos explained to Rob Maaddi in Baseball Faith: 52 MLB Stars Reflect on their Faith; “I grew up Catholic.  It’s not that I didn’t take it seriously, but I don’t think a lot of kids enjoy going to church.  When I got to St. Louis and met a lot of Christian players on the team, we would have Bible study once a week.  That kind of got me going again and following Christ, and that changed my life.  Things happen for a reason.  When I got traded to the Cardinals, I didn’t understand what that reason was; but when I left, I realized it was to bring me closer to Christ and get me back going to church and believing again.”

One of Bourjos’ favorite Bible verses is Proverbs 3:5; Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  He says that “this verse helps me calm down.  There’s so much going on in baseball and in life that you can’t control, so when I read this verse, it puts me at peace.  It puts everything in perspective for me.”

After the 2015 season, Bourjos’ time with the Cardinals came to an end.  He was claimed off of waivers by the Phillies, with whom he spent the 2016 season.  Prior to the 2017 season, he signed a minor league deal with the Chicago White Sox, who traded him before the season began to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Stephen Vogt – Colossians 3:23

Stephen Vogt

Oakland Athletic’s Cather, Stephen Vogt – photo by Keith Allison

No one ever seemed to notice Stephen Vogt.

Vogt grew up in Visalia, southern California city just south of Fresno.  His father, Randy, was a coach for Fresno State.  Stephen attended Central Valley Christian, a relatively small private school.  Though he had a solid high school career – including stealing 58 bases, he received very little attention from schools, outside of a few local community colleges.

There was one exception.  A small Christian university near Los Angeles, called Azusa Pacific University.  Though, the truth is, they didn’t really notice Vogt either.  While most people at Azusa Pacific had never heard of Stephen Vogt, one of their coaches was charged with finding ten players to recommend.  Vogt was one of the ten.  The coaches quickly did their research, and were impressed.

Vogt enrolled at Azusa Pacific, and had a stellar career.  While it certainly wasn’t the biggest school, attending Azusa Pacific turned out to be a huge blessing.  Vogt explained in an interview with the Alabama Baptist (subscription required); “I came into my faith.  I just kind of took it for granted until I got to college.  Being a Christian is not easy.  If it were easy, everybody would do it.  You are held to live to God’s standards of the world.”

Vogt not only grew in his faith – he also grew as a player.  He had been so successful that, by the end of his junior year, he thought we would be headed to the pros.  Just before the draft, coach Paul Svagdis went to a local sporting goods store, purchased every major league cap he could find, hoping that he had found the one for the team that would draft Vogt.  He didn’t.  By the end of the draft, no one had selected him.

That didn’t stop young Stephen Vogt.  If no one had noticed him before, he’d make sure they knew his name by the next draft.  Vogt came back for his senior year and put together an incredible season.  He hit .476, slugged .784, hit 14 homers, and drew just 17 strikeouts in 227 at bats.  That’s the type of season that usually makes you a high draft pick.

It didn’t.  Vogt was considered to have mediocre physical tools, questionable defense, and was downgraded for having played for a smaller college program.  He wasn’t drafted until the 12th round of the 2007 draft by the Tampa Bay Rays.

As usual, Vogt worked extremely hard.  In his first minor league season he hit .300 while playing short season single A ball.  The next season, he moved up to full season single A and hit .291.

But then 2009 happened.  In his second full minor league season, Vogt suffered a torn labrum.  Again, Vogt saw God at work in an unexpected way in his life.  He says, “God definitely took baseball away from me on purpose.  Baseball was becoming too much in my life.  I was not Stephen Vogt the man of God.  I was Stephen Vogt the baseball player.  God really tested me to see where my alliances were.  I learned my identity is not what I do for a living; it’s who I am as a person.  Baseball doesn’t define me.”

Vogt came back in 2010, and hit an impressive .345 in the Single A – Advanced level.  Still, however, scouts were largely unimpressed.  At 25, he was old for the level he was in, and was still criticized for his defense.

But, in 2011, he continued to hit in AA, hitting .301, and finally attracted some attention.  He saw success in AAA in 2012, and the big leagues were just around the corner.

He finally reached the majors with Tampa in 2013, but, for the first time in his young career, he struggled.  He saw only 25 at bats in the 4 months he spent on the roster.  In those 25 at bats, he didn’t record a single hit.  With a lifetime batting average of .000 after his first season, the Rays designated him for assignment.  Vogt had gone from unnoticed to unwanted.

That summer, Vogt received a phone call that would change his life.  He’d learned that his contract had been purchased by the Oakland Athletics for a measly $150,000.

In Oakland, everything changed.  It took some time, but Vogt eventually became a key part of the A’s team.  He was selected to the American League All-Star team in both 2015 and 2016.  He also received the A’s “Dave Stewart and Jim “Catfish” Hunter award, which recognizes service in the Oakland community, and was nominated by the A’s for Major League Baseballs Roberto Clemente Award, which is awarded to the player who best represents baseball through contributions on and off the field.  His hard work has paid off!

One of the keys behind Vogt’s success has been continuing to put in hard work, even when no one seemed to notice.  His favorite Bible verse is Colossians 3:23 – Whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord, and not for man.  He explains; “Every morning I try to ask myself – and I’m not always good at it – “what can I do to further the kingdom of God?  I am not living for me.  I am living for my family and for the Lord.  We live for a greater purpose.  As baseball players, we are put on a pedestal.  We are viewed as celebrities, which we are not.  A lot of kids want to be like us.  Unfortunately there are some bad examples in this game, but as much as possible, I try to be involved with fans and with kids and give back.”

There’s a lesson for all of us in Stephen Vogt’s story.  We’re called to do our best for God, even when no one else is watching.  We don’t perform for them; we perform for Him!