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Sogard, Conger reflect on origins in the game

Special to

PHOENIX -- Baseball is a sport often consumed by the future. Spring Training gives players an opportunity to relive how far they have come, even how they came to love the sport.

For some players, like Eric Sogard, the beginning of a love for baseball cannot be tied to a standout memory -- he has played his whole life. A second baseman for the Oakland Athletics and an Arizona native, Sogard reflected on his beginnings and said the sport has always been in his family.

"[Our dad] was always coaching us, up until about college, so he's my main influence," Sogard said. "I remember playing Wiffle ball in the backyard with my Dad and brother, pretending to be Major League players, just going at it and having fun.

"We actually have a video of it, so it's fun to go back and watch that sometimes."

On a string of nostalgia, Sogard reminisced about his freshman year at Arizona State University and his favorite early baseball memory -- a 2005 College World Series game.

"It was an elimination game," Sogard said. "Jeff Larish had already hit two homers; [we were] down by one with one out to go. He took the first pitch dead center to tie it up. It was the most emotion I've ever had on the field growing up."

All memories aside, Sogard said his love for baseball has no traceable beginning.

"I think it's always been there," Sogard said. "It's been in me as long as I can remember, and it's always been a passion for me."

While Sogard's memories stretch too early to remember, Hank Conger, a catcher for the Los Angeles Angels, remembers exactly why he started playing the game.

"Baseball was a second sport for me, to stay in shape for basketball season," Conger said. "After a couple of years, I liked it more and quit the other."

Prompted by his father, Conger switched from baseball at 8 years old. The Korean-American catcher said his inspiration to keep playing was Chan Ho Park, the first Korean-born player to enter the Major Leagues.

Reminiscing gives players the opportunity to happily recognize their upbringings, but Conger said the past serves an important role on the road to eventually reaching the big leagues.

"I used to keep score when I was a kid, sitting at home -- that's when you figure out your passion for the game, when you're a kid," Conger said.

Thinking about the past, Conger said that playing baseball isn't an ordinary career. As such, he said it does not really have ordinary beginnings. For players like Conger, falling in love early with the sport is what makes the difference.

"Baseball is a short career," Conger said. "It's not really a career; it's almost an experience. When you're younger, it's your building blocks for what you want to become -- a Major League baseball player."

Morgan Chan is a mass communications graduate student at Arizona State University. This story is part of a Cactus League partnership between and Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Hank Conger, Eric Sogard