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Rays' Vogt won't blame ump if hot spring cools

PORT CHARLOTTE - Tampa Bay Rays utilityman Ben Zobrist has a hard time believing catcher Stephen Vogt once umpired a minor league baseball game while a member of one of the teams playing in the game. "No way did that happened," Zobrist said. It did. "And he was in uniform?" Zobrist asked.
He was. "I don't believe that," Zobrist said. Believe it, because there are witnesses, such as pitcher Alex Cobb, who was a teammate of Vogt on the 2009 Charlotte Stone Crabs. "He did a pretty good job," Cobb said. "He blew one call, but it was in our favor." Vogt, Tampa Bay's minor league player of the year in 2011, is having an impressive spring for the Rays with the bat, hitting .346 with a .414 on-base percentage. He is forcing his way into the conversation about what the team should do at catcher, if not to start the season than certainly as the season moves along. Vogt also created headlines this month when he co-starred in a Carlos Peña video production by doing a spot-on imitation of Rays manager Joe Maddon talking about wine. But Vogt's finest moment in Port Charlotte may very well have been that Sunday afternoon when he came off the dugout bench to impersonate a professional umpire. It happened in August 2009, during the first game of a doubleheader with the Palm Beach Cardinals at Charlotte Sports Park. Home plate umpire Matt Cunningham was struck in the arm by a foul tip and left the game to go to the hospital. Vogt, on the 60-day disabled list because of a shoulder injury, told Stone Crab manager Jim Morrison that he umpired Little League and Babe Ruth League games and even intrasquad games while playing at Azusa Pacific University. Morrison asked Palm Beach manager Tom Spencer and A.J. Johnson, who was the other half of the two-man umpire crew. Both agreed to let Vogt – in full Stone Crab uniform – umpire the bases for the remainder of the seven-inning game, which the Crabs won 3-2. "That's the wackiest thing I ever heard," Zobrist said. Then maybe we shouldn't jump ahead to a game later that year when another home plate umpire suffered an injury at Charlotte Sports Park and a replacement was found among the 200 or so fans in attendance. "A professional baseball organization that has to have an injured player and a fan as their umpire in the same year is pretty weird," Cobb said. What do you think of that, Ben? Wacky? Vogt would argue his was wackier. "That's the wackiest, having a player in uniform, mind you, a Stone Crabs uniform, umpiring first base," Vogt said. The excitement of being able to finally contribute to a game overrode any case of nerves Vogt might have felt when he took his position and realized he wasn't making calls in an intrasquad game. "Umping is a different job in baseball. You have to pay attention at all times," Vogt said. "I got all of them right except one, and right when I made the call I was like, 'Oh, darn it.' I knew it right away." That the blown call – a bang-bang play at first base – favored the Stone Crabs didn't prevent Vogt's teammates from giving him the business from the first base dugout. "We were definitely heckling him, that's for sure," Cobb said. Vogt said he wasn't shy. He barked out his calls like he'd been doing it for years. "Oh, yeah, I had good mechanics. I definitely had good mechanics," he said. "Nice and to the point. Nice and simple. That's how my game is on the baseball field, so why would my umpiring be any different?" Cobb wasn't surprised his teammate handled himself well in his new and short-lived role. "Vogt can do a little bit of everything," Cobb said. But Vogt couldn't do the second game. Another umpire arrived in time to work home plate. "If that's true," Zobrist said, "then he has to be the first umpire invited to major league camp." "I could quite possibly be that," Vogt said.

rmooney@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7227

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