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COC baseball: Cal Vogelsang, picking his way through

Vogelsang’s hard decision to leave a Division I power is paying off

Posted: April 25, 2010 10:05 p.m.
Updated: April 26, 2010 4:55 a.m.

College of the Canyons' Cal Vogelsang is one of the biggest reasons that the Cougars are just one game back in the Western State Conference, South Division standings. The former West Ranch star decided to play for COC after leaving UC Irvine.

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Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to move forward.

Such was the case for College of the Canyons baseball player Cal Vogelsang, who made a tough decision at the end of last year to leave the University of California, Irvine baseball team before the season started and return to the Santa Clarita Valley as a way of expanding his playing opportunities.

“Going to an (NCAA Division I) school and being able to play for the No. 1 team in the nation was probably a dream come true,” Vogelsang says. “For me to leave was a huge decision.”

Vogelsang left Irvine after learning that his playing time as a freshman would be extremely limited or nonexistent. After working so hard to make the team, he left because he just wanted to play baseball.

A former West Ranch High School and All-Foothill League shortstop, Vogelsang had piqued the interest of college coaches during his senior campaign, when he was hitting .355 with 38 hits, 32 RBIs and eight home runs. Among those interested was UC Irvine head coach Mike Gillespie, a former head baseball coach at COC.

West Ranch head coach Casey Burrill had played for Gillespie at USC. Burrill says that he had mentioned to Gillespie that Vogelsang could play at UC Irvine’s level.

“I may have planted the seed, but it was entirely up to Cal to prove it,” Burrill says. “Gillespie came out to a couple of games and practices and was really impressed and invited him to come down to Irvine and play.”

Vogelsang moved to Irvine and joined the team as a walk-on. But after the fall, Gillespie told him that the coaching staff wanted him to redshirt his freshman year.

To Vogelsang, taking a year off from baseball didn’t sit well and he told Gillespie just that.

“I said, for my baseball career — and this is hopefully what I want to do some day as a profession — I think it would be best for me to not take a year off,” Vogelsang says. “So I figured I’d come back to COC, work hard here and see what happens.”

Vogelsang got to work at COC and has thrived, starting all but one game this season.

“You know, I ended up getting lucky and got thrown into the starting lineup and just kind of ran with it from there,” Vogelsang says.

Luck doesn’t seem to fit into the picture as much as Vogelsang’s performance.

As of April 22, the freshman is batting .389 with 49 hits and 10 home runs. He’s also scored 29 runs and driven in 33, and he has a slugging percentage of .738.

“He’s having a great season for us and he’s been a team leader this year,” says COC head coach Chris Cota. “He works hard and we’ve been fortunate to have him.”

Vogelsang says that coming in as a freshman, it’s tough to be a leader and that he knows he needs to perform to earn respect.

Cota says he is already showing leadership on the field.

“What he does is lead by example because he plays hard,” Cota says.

Vogelsang’s immediate goals are to keep improving and to contribute to his team.

“He’s here early to hit, sometimes stays late to hit and continues to work hard in the weight room,” Cota says. “He’s trying to get himself better all the time.”

At COC, Vogelsang has made the move from infield to outfield. Although he misses playing shortstop, he says the outfield is different but still fun.

“Being in the outfield, I get to focus more on my hitting than defense,” Vogelsang says.

COC is the two-time Western State Conference, South Division champion and is looking for a three-peat this season. The Cougars are in a three-way tie for second in the conference with an 11-8 record, one game back of 12-7 L.A. Valley.

“Obviously we have to win the rest of our games and we have to have some teams lose some games,” Vogelsang says. “We can do it, there’s no question about it. It’s just whether we want it more than the other team.”

Whether or not the COC baseball team succeeds this season remains to be seen, but Vogelsang is quickly proving that his decision to leave UC Irvine and return to Santa Clarita was the best one for his future as a baseball player.

“Coming back has probably been one of the smarter decisions in my life so far,” he says, “financially, and getting the chance to play and to do what I’ve done.”

Cota says the move back home turned out to be a positive one.

“He will draw a lot of interest when he’s done playing here and he will definitely play at the next level, whether it’s college ball or pro ball,” Cota says.

Vogelsang’s ultimate goal of getting drafted may or may not happen this year. Since he falls into the NCAA transfer rule that dictates he must complete his associate’s degree before transferring back to a four-year school, he will be back at COC next season if he isn’t drafted.

“If it happens, it happens,” Vogelsang says. “If not, I’m back here next year and then, hopefully, will put up some numbers again and see what happens after that.”

Burrill thinks Vogelsang’s performance this year shows that he has the tools that coaches are looking for in a player. 

“In all honesty, he’s going to have a difficult choice trying to figure out if he wants to entertain a professional career when he’s done at COC or if he wants to continue on with his education and play some Division I baseball for someone,” Burrill says.

When the time comes for that decision, you can bet Vogelsang will be ready.

He’s already proven to be good at making the difficult ones.

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