The Bishop Verot baseball team has run into its fair share of roadblocks over the last four years. Good enough to reach the state final four each season during that span, the Vikings reached their ceiling in the semifinals in 2013 and 2014 and in the finals in 2012 and this past season.
If anyone understands Verot’s plight, it’s former Viking Daniel Vogelbach, who helped end the club’s previous drought without a state title — 17 years — in 2011.
Now in the Chicago Cubs organization, the roadblock impeding Vogelbach’s route to the majors is 6-foot-3, 240-pound National League all-star first baseman Anthony Rizzo. In the midst of his fifth season in the minors, Vogelbach, one of the most productive hitters in the organization, isn’t concerned with who is in front of him.
“I’ve realized what’s important in life. I’ve got my priorities straight,” Vogelbach said. “And everything else that I can’t control, I don’t worry about that. I go out every day and worry about what I can control and let everything else fall into place.”
On the list of aspects of his career he can control, Voglebach, who plays for the Double-A Tennessee Smokies, is hitting .284 with five home runs and 34 RBI this season, earning him a spot in the Southern League All-Star Game where he hit a three-run homer last month. A change in approach at the plate, has seen his walks (45), on-base percentage (.410) and OBP (.942), statistics the Cubs value, increase.
“I’m taking what the pitchers are giving me, I’m taking my walks, not being over anxious,” Vogelbach said.
He’s also provided the answers to questions about his weight and whether he could shed the label of “designated hitter.”
Vogelbach dropped 30 pounds before the 2014 season and now sits at 250 pounds. He’s also made great strides at first base.
On the other hand, Rizzo is having his best season as a pro and is signed until 2019, suggesting Vogelbach’s rise to the majors may have to come as an outfielder or on another team. Vogelbach said he would consider the former.
“I’d be open to anything. Whatever I have to do,” Vogelbach said. “But, right now, I’m going to stay a first baseman until some tells me differently.”
At the moment, the Cubs are against a change of position.
“We’re not considering (a move to the outfield) at this time,” Cubs’ player development and scouting chief Jason McLeod told the Chicago Tribune in late May. “He’s having another phenomenal start over these first two months, and the plan is just to leave him where he is and let him do what he’s doing.”
Rizzo gave Vogelbach some words of encouragement during Spring Training, relaying his personal experience of being blocked at first base while coming up with the Boston Red Sox. He was traded to San Diego before getting an opportunity in the majors.
“Rizzo is the first baseman for the Cubs and he’ll be the first baseman for a long time,” Vogelbach said. “I know that. All I can control is how I’m playing every day.”
Vogelbach’s journey has inspired a host of Verot players keeping tabs on his process. He worked out with CJ and Blaze Alexander as well as Richie Nizza in the offseason and visited with the Vikings during workouts before heading to Spring Training.
“I’ll see Dan on the big screen, for sure, soon,” CJ Alexander, who will play for Ball State next spring, said. “It’s because of the drive he has and the way he carries himself. He’s one of the hardest working guys I know. I don’t know anyone who deserves it more than he does.”
Meanwhile, Vogelbach is waiting for his moment.
“When it’s the right time I’ll get to the big leagues,” he said, “and the goal is not to go back to the minor leagues.”