CLEVELAND (AP) — Through the ups and downs of Stephen Vogt's playing career — the minor league demotions, two All-Star selections, injuries and too many moves to remember — he never lost sight of his goal to one day become a manager.
For the kid who had a bat tucked into his baby crib and quickly fell for the game, the journey is complete.
"I kind of always had the dream,” he said. “So it’s been a pretty fun day today.”
A baseball lifer with a gift of gab, charming personality and uncanny ability to connect with people, Vogt was introduced Friday by the Cleveland Guardians, who didn't need long to zero in on him as their choice in the search to find the successor to Terry Francona, the winningest manager in club history.
And the same was true for Vogt, who following his initial meetings on Zoom calls with the team's front office, sensed Cleveland was his destiny.
“I really felt a connection with the Guardians,” he said. “I thought, I want to be there.”
It didn't take long to see what this means to Vogt.
He choked back tears during his opening remarks at a news conference inside Progressive Field, which is undergoing massive renovations this offseason as the Guardians begin a new era without Francona as their point man.
After slipping on his No. 12 Guardians jersey for the first time, Vogt, who played for six teams in 10 seasons before retiring in 2022, thanked his father, Randy, older brother, Danny, and family for their unwavering support.
As his wife, Alyssa, and their three children sat just a few feet away, Vogt showed vulnerability and modesty, two of the traits that made him universally adored by teammates, coaches and managers and among the many reasons the Guardians were drawn to him.
“We had a really strong group of candidates and it was awesome to be able to get to know them,” said Chris Antonetti, the Guardians president of baseball operations. “But Stephen has a unique blend of self-confidence and humility. He’s got a great baseball mind. So there were so many things that stood out as we thought about the leader that we were trying to bring into the organization.”
When they embarked on the search to replace Francona, who stepped down following this past season, the Guardians made it clear they wanted their manager to be a “collaborative partner” aligned with their values.
They wanted a strong communicator, an open-minded leader and someone who not only challenge them but make them better.
They believe Vogt, a well-traveled catcher with zero managerial experience, is the perfect choice.
And, the 39-year-old is ready.
“I feel like I’ve been planning for this for a long time,” he said. “I’ve been working towards this for a long time.”
Vogt's first managerial job has some obvious challenges, chief among them taking over for the beloved Francona, who won 921 games, guided the small-market Guardians with their financial obstacles, to six postseasons in 11 years and nearly ended Cleveland's long World Series drought in 2016.
It would be completely normal if Vogt felt intimidated following in Francona's footsteps. He doesn't see it that way.
“I don’t feel any pressure to replace Tito,” said Vogt, who was Seattle's bullpen coach last season. “You can’t fill those shoes. This is one of the greatest managers our game has ever seen.”
Vogt reached out to Francona during the interview process, and their conversations only reaffirmed what he already thought about coming to Cleveland.
“He’s such an unbelievable human being and he just confirmed everything I was feeling about the Guardians' people,” Vogt said. “Those were my questions. I didn’t ask him any baseball questions. I asked him about people and he confirmed everything that I was feeling.”
Vogt's staff is still taking shape. The Guardians are bringing back several coaches, including Sandy Alomar Jr. (first base) and hitting instructor Chris Valaika, who also interviewed for Cleveland's manager's job.
The Guardians have asked bench coach DeMarlo Hale to return and are awaiting word from the 62-year-old who was Francona's right-hand man for three seasons in Cleveland. There are openings at third base, the bullpen and for a replay coordinator.
Vogt has already connected with some of Cleveland's players and recently had lunch with pitcher Shane Bieber.
Vogt knows baseball, but more specifically, he knows players.
Whether behind the plate or on the bench, he's been dutifully taking notes, asking questions and picking the brains of managers like Bruce Bochy, Bob Melvin, Craig Counsell and Scott Servais, so he would be prepared for his chance.
It arrived sooner than he could have imagined, and now Vogt can begin the next chapter, the one he's dreamed of.
“I’ve been released,” he said. “I’ve been traded. I’ve been the worst player in baseball. I’ve been one of the best players in baseball. I’ve been a prospect. I’ve been a nobody, you name it. And so no matter who walks through the doors of that clubhouse, I feel like I know where they’re at and I can relate to them.”
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