What’s more nerve-wracking – Oak Lawn’s Brian Bogusevic taking a round bat and trying to hit a round ball square for the Houston Astros, or dad Tom Bogusevic watching his son play on TV?
Evidence tilts in favor of the latter scenario.
“Too many highs and lows,” said the elder Bogusevic, who somehow can stomach watching Brian play in person, who is town this weekend with the Houston Astros doing battle against the Chicago Cubs.
“He kind of knows the angst a player goes through,” said Sandy Bogusevic of her husband, an ex-player himself.
But on the night of Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011, Tom Bogusevic got tricked up and watched junior have his greatest big-league moment yet live and in living color.
“I always watch the 9 p.m. news (on WGN-TV),” said Tom Bogusevic. “I turn it on, and I see the game is still on. It’s the ninth inning, this will be fast. One thing leads to another. I know he’s the first left-handed pinch-hitter off the bench.”
The Astros trailed 5-2 with Cubs closer Carlos Marmol in the game. Houston loaded the bases with one out. Up came Brian Bogusevic to pinch hit.
Tuning In Was A Big Blast
“Oh, no, he’s gonna strike out….he’s going to hit into a game-ending double play and 8 million people in Chicago will see it,” said the old man. “First two pitches were strikes. Then he hits the thing and it’s unbelievable. Then I got 100 texts and phone calls.”
What Bogusevic hit was a walk-off grand-slam homer off Marmol for a 6-5 Astros victory. And the kid who grew up at 99th Street and Major Avenue made a lot of his fellow White Sox fans happy…until last month's inter-league game. Batting against Sox reliever Will Ohman with the Astros leading 5-3 in the top of the ninth, now-Astros regular Brian Bogusevic slugged a three-run homer to put the game semi-out of reach.
“Honestly it wasn’t weird,” the 28-year-old outfielder said of hammering the nail in his childhood favorites’ coffin that night. “It was fun going down to the ballpark, but once we started playing, it didn’t feel much differently than any other stadium I’ve been at. You go out there and play at game at 7 o’clock.”
To get that far, defying 1,000-1 odds to reach the majors, Bogusevic could not have been stamped out of a mold. He’s always followed life’s changeups to carve his path, starting with his decision to commute across the South Side to De La Salle High School instead of attending much closer schools, like , his father’s alma mater.
“I guess I always like to do things differently,” Bogusevic said in a phone interview from San Francisco, where the Astros had played after their series with the White Sox.
“I guess your development as a player goes along with your development as a person. The more difficult situations you’ve been in and gotten through and found ways to adjust, it helps you later on when you get in another difficult situation.
“When you’re moving through the minor leagues and going from city to city, and all of a sudden you’re in a new place with a bunch of people you don’t know, you’ve done it before. When you’re going 0-for-10, 0-for 20, you’ve been through some tough situations before, you can ease your mind a little bit knowing you can get through it.”
De La Salle Was Start of His Maturation
Bogusevic has never been afraid of trying new situations and meeting new people ever since Brother Michael of De La Salle’s ruling Christian Brothers sold him on the school, alma mater of generations of Daleys, to break out of his insular world attending and McGugan schools close to home. Four years later, he spurned the chance to attend Illinois or Notre Dame, and instead opted for Tulane in New Orleans.
“One of best decisions I’ve ever made,” Bogusevic said of De La Salle. “At the time, it kind of intrigued me. Looking back at it now, it just opened up a whole new world. You’re outside your little bubble. I have to learn to take the train to and from school, meet friends from different parts of the city. This is just how you did it.
“Then go down to a different part of the country, open up a new part of the country to yourself. The first couple of times you get out of your comfort zone, it can be intimidating. For me, I learn pretty early I can go out on my own and figure things out.”
And that included getting a Tulane bachelor’s degree in business law when so many athletes merely use college as a conduit to a pro contract. The fact Bogusevic would attend college and not go straight into baseball’s June amateur draft was a mutual decision, but codified by Sandy Bogusevic.
“I thought it was important he had the college experience,” she said. “He was always the type of kid who loved the dormitory life, liked having the boys around. He had never been away from home much.
“College was much better (than the minors). You still have that old feeling you have to have something to fall back on. You need to know how to manage your money. I felt it was really important. I hadn’t gotten my degree then (since then Sandy has completed college). Even after he was drafted (in 2005), I told him you got to promise me you'll finish finish college.”
That her son did. Now it’s a source of pride.
“Not a lot of guys in my situation end up doing that,” Bogusevic said. “They go to school a couple of years and they get caught up in my career, and it’s tough to go back. Looking back I’m very happy I did it. I’m proud I have the degree.”
“He’s really a smart kid. A deep thinker,” said Sandy Bogusevic. He scored a 28 on his ACT to get into academically-tough Tulane.
From the Mound to the Outfield
Yet another different path was his baseball career. Bogusevic was a talented left-handed pitcher drafted in the first round out of Tulane by the Astros. But his numbers just kept getting worse through four seasons in the minors. Always a good hitter, the Astros converted him to the outfield in July 2008. He hit .411 his first month as an everyday player in the minors. He finally stuck in Houston as a big-leaguer when recalled on Aug. 1, 2011.
“The fact you never get a break from that (big-league) talent is more of a daunting thing than facing it for that first time,” Bogusevic said. “If it’s just (facing a) 95 mph fastball you can still feel comfortable. But those fastballs aren’t straight, they have great off-speed pitches, they locate everything. It’s crazy how tough it is.”
Bogusevic is serious enough about his career to have settled full-time in Houston. The love of his life is another motivation. Fiance Kelley Smith is a Houston native who still works in town. They’ll be married in Chicago in November 2013. He’ll still come back to Oak Lawn for the Christmas holidays and one or two other times in the off-season, in addition to the Astros’ visits to Chicago.
“We always took the approach life is a marathon,” said Tom Bogusevic. “We weren’t trying to create a major-league baseball player.”
They may have created a better person instead.