"I was the happiest guy in the stadium when he got that hit.”
According to their website, approximately two million kids play Little League Baseball in 80 different countries each year. Most have probably spent time daydreaming about playing in the Big Leagues one day and may dream about playing for their local college team or even the Little League World Series.
The chances of just one of those dreams coming true is infinitesimal and to reach the pinnacle of all three levels of the sport is such a mathematical improbability that of the millions and millions of kids who start out in Little League, only three have ever played in the Little League, NCAA and Major League World Series.
Ed Vosberg was the first to do it and he joins us for this week’s installment of Spitballin.’
Vosberg took the first step in completing the rare World Series Triple Crown as a kid growing up in Tucson, Arizona. A year after his older brother’s team advanced deep, but missed out on a trip to Williamsport, his Tucson team won the West Region with Vosberg leading the way.
In college, Vosberg attended his hometown school, the University of Arizona, and as a freshman in 1980, he was one of the key pitchers on the eventual NCAA World Series champions. That team featured Terry Francona, Casey Candaele, Craig Lefferts, John Moses and friend of BallNine Wes Clements.
Vosberg was able to complete the trifecta in 1997 when the Marlins made a post-trade deadline move to acquire the lefty that August, appearing in 17 regular season games and holding his opponents scoreless in 13 of them. When the Marlins made their incredible run through the playoffs, knocking off the Giants, Braves and Indians, Vosberg earned his World Series ring and his place in history.
The Little League World Series is just a few weeks away and a new batch of kids will take the first step towards joining this elite club, so the time is right to go Spitballin’ with Ed Vosberg.
Thanks for joining us, Mr. Vosberg. Awesome to be talking to you, especially with the Little League World Series coming up in a few weeks. Let’s start around that age today. What was baseball like for you as a kid?
I had an older brother who was really great because he introduced me to a lot of sports. We were very fortunate because we lived two houses away from a park, so we were always there playing ball. My older brother used to let me tag along with him. The more I was around the older kids, the more I developed a love for sports. Baseball was just one of the sports I played, but it wasn’t my favorite. I enjoyed playing basketball more and I was a football player through high school.
“I didn’t realize people would make a big deal out of it. It was a question on Jeopardy! one night and is on scoreboards all the time.”
I have a few questions about the Little League World Series. Did you know as a young kid that you were on such a talented Little League team?
We had a very good team when I was 11 and our Little League All-Star team did well. My middle brother’s team did well the year before. They almost made the Little League World Series but lost in the state championship game. We were fortunate enough to win some really close games. You gotta be a little lucky. We won some games that were really tight. I ended up pitching a game in the Western Regional Finals that we won 1-0. I knocked in the only run in the first inning and it held up. We had a great coach who emphasized fundamentals and defense. We had a great defense for being 11 years old. We had two great pitchers too. We threw that straight over-the-top curve ball, and it was pretty much unhittable to the other kids.
I think after watching my brother’s team, I thought it was possible. They won five in a row, and you had to win six, so that’s how close they came. We didn’t have too many close games and our other pitcher pitched a perfect game in the Western Regionals. It happened so fast. We won ten games in a row and then we were on a plane to Williamsport. Back then, it was single elimination. If you lost a game at any point, you were out. We had great pitching and great defense and if you look at any level of baseball, that’s what usually wins.
Was there a win along the way that stood out to you?
There was a game we won 1-0 in the Western Regional Finals against California and that was a huge win. I batted fifth in the lineup and came up with the bases loaded in the first inning with one out. This kid threw me two fastballs that I had no chance on. He threw them right by me. For some reason he threw me a curve ball and I hit it up the middle. That ended up being the only run of the game. We were lucky to win; they were the best team we played along the way.
Ed Vosberg throws a pitch in the Little League World Series.
As a youngster playing in the Little League World Series, do you get nervous? How did you go about dealing with nerves having played on the big stage on many levels?
I was always nervous, but when the games started, I was able to put my nerves aside and not let the moment get too big. I tell kids later that when I got to the Majors, I felt pressure every day because I went into the bullpen and would have to face really good players every night. One day, my father-in-law and I were talking about prayer. He asked me if I pray when I am on the mound and I told him I prayed before. He asked what I did when I was out there, and I told him nothing really. He suggested I pray in the heat of the moment, and I started doing that. Whenever I was feeling nerves, I would ask God to take my fear away from me, with my nervousness and anxiety. For the most part, whenever I did that, I was able to focus on myself. I wasn’t thinking of facing Griffey or Bonds. Did it always work? No. But it always enabled me to not think about the moment and focus on what I was doing. It helped me get over a bad day too.
You played against that powerhouse and controversial Taiwan team in the Little League World Series finals. What were they like?
Interestingly enough, there was a big discrepancy with them and their age. Our coach thought they were older than they said. We were like, “How are these guys so good?” They were just so much better than everyone else. Then we found out the next year, they were banned from playing because of their ages. We played them and it was 0-0 going into the fourth inning. But they threw three no-hitters in the tournament. Nobody could even touch their pitching. I just saw a video. I was playing in Philadelphia and a gal who was interviewing me gave me a video of the game. I had never seen it before. They were even better than I thought. Their pitcher struck out 16 batters. We had two kids put the ball in play. I fouled the ball off and thought that was good. Their guy was like a Big League pitcher. They were out there using wood bats too. They had great hitters. They won 18-0, 27-0 and then beat us 12-0. That’s unusual for a team to be able to do that and be 11 and 12.
After a great high school career, you played at the University of Arizona. Being from Tucson, was that always a goal of yours?
When I was 12 years old, I played with a kid whose dad was Jim Wing, the pitching coach at the University of Arizona. He would come out and work with some of the kids and I really got to know him pretty well. I thought to myself that if Arizona ever recruited me, that I would go there. When I was 12, I wanted to be an Arizona Wildcat because of Coach Wing. They had a great baseball program, and I was fortunate enough to be recruited by them. My senior year in High School they went to the College World Series and lost but they had a great team coming back. I knew we’d do well, and we ended up winning the College World Series as a freshman. I wanted to stay home so my family could watch me pitch too.
As a freshman who was one of the main pitchers on a veteran team, how were you able to make the adjustment to that level so smoothly?
I was lucky because Jerry Kindall didn’t throw me into the fire right away. He eased me in and there were other pitchers on the staff who were really good and talked to me a lot. They were great examples and would give me advice. Craig Lefferts was there, and he was really kind to me. They embraced me. We were a team, and we were all pulling for each other. Lefferts didn’t have the greatest year in the regular season, but we got to the College World Series and he won two games there. Someone called us the Cardiac Kids because we’d come back and win games in the end. Terry Francona was on that team too. We had a lot of talented players throughout the lineup, and we had the pitching too. We were fortunate to come back a couple games in the World Series. We were down 4-1 in the Western Regionals and came back to win. It’s hard to do because teams get down and that’s it. We had guys who didn’t give up and Jerry Kindall was a great guy to play for. I relish my time playing for him.
Mar 1 1999: Pitcher Ed Vosberg #52 of the San Diego Padres poses for a studio portrait on Photo Day during Spring Training at the Peoria Stadium in Peoria, Arizona. (Credit: Todd Warshaw /Allsport)
You mentioned that you dreamed of being a Major Leaguer, like all of us do at some point. You were drafted three separate times, so twice you didn’t sign. Was that difficult to do? Take us through your draft experience.
I got drafted out of high school and got some great advice. I had talked to some people, and they told me how difficult it was to play professional sports. I realized that I wanted to go to the U of A to play for Coach Kindall and Coach Wing. I wasn’t ready from a maturity standpoint. I feel like I could have done it as a player, but I needed a little more growing up. I was thankful that I got drafted. It made me believe that someone thought I was good enough.
I wanted to enjoy the college experience and figured if things kept going well, I could get another chance. College sounded like a lot of fun, and I didn’t want to pass it up. Then I didn’t have the best year as a junior, but Toronto drafted me anyway. I had a sour taste in my mouth, and I wanted to go back for my senior year. I did much better that year and the Padres drafted me. It was a weird road, but I was thankful that things worked out.
What was it like finally stepping on the mound as a Major League Baseball player when you made your debut with the Padres in 1986?
It was incredible. It was everything you think about. I faced off against Vida Blue and seeing him in the other dugout was incredible. I talked about it later and told him I was a fan of his growing up. I only got two at bats in the Big Leagues and I ended up hitting a line drive to short off of him. It was surreal. I remember falling behind 3-1 on my first hitter, Dan Gladden. I remember thinking, “You can’t go out there and walk your first batter!” He ended up flying out to right. I pitched four really good shutout innings and in the fifth, Kevin McReynolds dropped a pretty routine fly ball in centerfield and things snowballed from there. I gave up three runs in the fifth and I came out of the game losing. But Benito Santiago hit a homer in the bottom of the tenth to win it. It was really cool. My folks had come down and my brothers were there. I had some cousins living in San Diego who came too. I got to pitch to really great players like Will Clark and pitching against Vida Blue was really cool.
July 20 2000: Pitcher Ed Vosberg #50 of the Philadelphia Phillies winds up for the pitch during the game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Phillies defeated the Cubs 3-2. (Credit: Jonathan Daniel /Allsport)
That’s great. I saw that Will Clark was your first Major League strikeout too. That’s a pretty good guy to get for your first!
Yes it was. We ended up becoming teammates in Texas. I loved playing with Will. He was definitely one of the characters of the game and just a great player. He went out when he was on top and I thought he could have kept going. He hit over .300 for his career which is pretty impressive. I was really fortunate to play with great people like Tony Gwynn, Gary Carter and Pudge Rodriguez. Gary Carter was one of my favorites. I’ll never forget when I met him. I flew into New York and we were playing the Mets. He came up to me in the outfield and said, “Hi, I’m Gary Carter.” I was like, “God, I know who you are!” He was so kind. He asked me to tell him about myself. He wanted to know my strengths and weaknesses. What a professional. Our other catcher with the Giants was Terry Kennedy and he was great too. I met some great people and made some great friendships. I got to play with some great managers too. Guys like Frank Robinson and Dusty Baker. I got a chance to meet Dave Dravecky and still have some friendships from my time with the Giants.
You completed your World Series Triple Crown with the Marlins in 1997. You were traded there during the 1997 season, and they weren’t really close to first place. They took the wild card route and beat three incredible teams to capture the ’97 World Series. What was your mindset there when you got traded? Was the team thinking postseason?
I was in Boston and heard rumors that I might get traded. The deadline came and went without a trade and I was a little discouraged because I was hoping to pitch for a contender since I had gotten a taste of the playoffs the year before with the Rangers. I was in Boston and had come back to my hotel and saw the light on my phone blinking. It was Doug Melvin, the General Manager of the Rangers. He said, “You gotta call me. You got traded to the Marlins.” I was excited, said my goodbyes to the team and flew to Houston because the Marlins were playing the Astros. I knew they had a shot at the wild card. I wasn’t having as great a year as the two years before, but I pitched well with the Marlins. They ended up putting me on the playoff roster and the rest was history.
Florida Marlins Ed Vosberg in Game 2 of the NLCS on Oct. 8, 1997 in Atlanta. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)
When did you learn that nobody had played in the Little League, NCAA and Major League World Series? Was that something you knew ahead of time?
It’s funny. A friend of mine from grade school called me up when we were playing the Giants and said, “Man, if you go to the World Series, you’re gonna be the only player who played in the Little League, College and Big League World Series!” I was like, “Wow, that’s pretty cool!” I didn’t realize people would make a big deal out of it. It was a question on Jeopardy! one night and is on scoreboards all the time. The other two guys who have done it since were Michael Conforto and Jason Varitek. Conforto went 0-3 and Varitek only won the Major League World Series. I won with U of A and the Marlins, so I have two. We beat the Giants and the Braves to get to the World Series. I didn’t pitch in the first couple games in the World Series, so I was just hoping to get in a game. I ended up getting into the coldest game in World Series history in Cleveland. That was such a great series. Each team won each alternate game. We won the first, third, fifth and seventh.
Incredible. This has been a great talk and congrats once again on still being the only pitcher to pitch in the Little League, NCAA and MLB World Series. I’m sure we’ll be hearing your name in the coming weeks. Let’s end this interview with a walk-off. Where were you when Edgar Renteria got his RBI single in Game 7 to win the 1997 World Series?
I was gonna be the next pitcher in the game. I think just about everybody had already pitched. The phone rang and they told me to get ready because I was coming in next. I became even more anxious. I was like, “Come on Edgar, you gotta get this hit!” I was saying my Hail Mary’s. I wanted to get in the game, but you want your team to win. I was the happiest guy in the stadium when he got that hit. He got that hit with two outs. I remember him hitting that ball and it tipped off Charles Nagy’s glove and snuck through. Everyone was running onto the field and 60,000 fans were going absolutely crazy. It was quite a moment!