Affeldt, Vogelsong return with fond Classic memories
Giants pitchers enjoyed their experiences with Team USA, sans elimination loss
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Preparing for and participating in the World Baseball Classic didn't leave Ryan Vogelsong and Jeremy Affeldt just in midseason form. They almost felt as if they were in postseason form.
Performing at a higher level than they ordinarily would this time of year, and competing under more stressful circumstances than the Cactus League offers, reminded the pair of Giants pitchers of last October's surge to the World Series title.
"I think I would have had a much tougher time going into [the Classic] without being through the postseason last year," said Vogelsong, Team USA's No. 2 starter who, with Affeldt, returned to Giants camp on Sunday. "It was that kind of atmosphere and intensity."
"I felt the pressure, at this point of the season, was like playoff-atmosphere pressure," said Affeldt, a top reliever on the U.S. squad. "It's not a well-I'll-just-get-my-work-in mentality."
Vogelsong and Affeldt would have preferred to rejoin their Giants teammates later this week. Puerto Rico eliminated Team USA from the Classic with a 4-3 victory on Friday. Still, both pitchers cherished their stint in the tournament.
"It was just about everything I thought it was going to be, minus not winning," said Vogelsong, who was 1-1 with a 3.72 ERA in two Classic starts.
Vogelsong appreciated being able to exchange perspectives on the game with his peers.
"I think you can learn something pretty much every day in this game. The great ones continue to learn on a daily basis," the right-hander said. "There was definitely more to take out of it than just playing for Team USA and being in the tournament. You're around guys that you're normally not around, and I asked them questions about how they approach different hitters in different situations."
Vogelsong also seized the opportunity to absorb as much knowledge as he could from Greg Maddux, the future Hall of Famer who served as the U.S. pitching coach.
"I don't think there's anything really that sticks out in my mind. It's just talking pitching," Vogelsong said. "Stuff that you might have heard five years ago and kind of forgot about. We didn't really talk about anything specific. The main thing was mental approach, everything that has to go along with being a Major League pitcher."
"It does bring about some pride in the game that you might have lost or were starting to lose," said Affeldt, who thew 3 1/3 scoreless innings spanning three outings. "All of a sudden, you're like, 'Man, this is fun. This is intense.' You get to see the way a lot of different countries feel about the game and the intensity they play with, and you have to rise up to that."
Vogelsong added that training for and playing in the Classic should give him a head start for this season. "I really feel like the experience of doing that and being in meaningful games this early in the season is going to help me in the long run," San Francisco's No. 5 starter said.
Affeldt agreed. "You have to get your pitches locked in, man," the left-hander said. "My split-finger is usually the last one to come, and this time I had to have it. I threw some pretty good splits and some pretty good curveballs, and I was just letting my sinker go."
Affeldt also raised a subject that probably occurred to many American fans.
"I think the U.S. needs to try to figure out a way to win one of these," he said.
But how? Affeldt didn't have any solutions for reversing the fortunes of the Americans, who finished 3-3 in the Classic. He implied that losing Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira and Mets third baseman David Wright to injuries before and during the Classic, respectively, severely hampered the U.S.
"If you look at the Dominican Republic and all of a sudden you say 20 minutes before the game, '[Robinson] Cano, you can't play,' there's a pretty big hole in that lineup," Affeldt said, referring to Wright's sudden scratch due to a painful left rib cage before last Thursday's loss to the Dominican Republic. "Healthy teams go the farthest. If we had our whole arsenal out there, I think we would have done better."
Matters might be different if winning the Classic became a higher priority in this country. The passion of the supporters from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, teams that the U.S. faced in Miami, impressed Vogelsong. "I think their fans were a lot more into the tournament than our fans," he said.
Observers have suggested that the same imbalance exists between players from other countries and U.S. Major Leaguers. To American ballplayers who might feel less than enthusiastic about representing their country, Affeldt has a message:
"If you don't feel like you're healthy enough ... there are some risks you don't necessarily need to take," Affeldt said. "But I feel like if you're physically able to do it, then do it. Because it's a great experience. And I think it's something I'll never forget."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.