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Forever my Superman

Many of the people in freshman Matt Vogel’s life don’t know the story of his older brother, Christopher. Friends see the family photos with a guy in a wheelchair, teammates see the variation of a Superman tattoo when he’s walking in the locker room, but few actually know the story. Without the story, Matt Vogel may not be where he is today.

Vogel signed with the Gamecocks over Florida and others

On July 14, 2008, Christopher Vogel was in a car accident on Long Island, N.Y. The details are sketchy though. Newspaper reports say that Christopher Vogel, who was 20 years old at the time, was driving too fast along a stretch of roadway where there have been several fatal accidents.

His car drifted across the double yellow lines and was in a head-on collision with another car. While the driver of the other car was fine, Christopher Vogel’s best friend, Nicholas Luongo, died on the scene. For months, Matt Vogel said, his brother was in a coma. Now 26, Christopher Vogel is out of the hospital and at home but is in a vegetative state.

Matt Vogel, 12 years old at the time, was with his parents in Cooperstown, N.Y. doing what he loved - playing baseball. When the call came that their oldest son had been in an accident, the parents immediately left to return to Medford, N.Y. Matt came home the next day.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Matt Vogel said. “I was just 12 years old, so I was just thinking to myself, ‘Yeah, he’s going to be fine.’ I walked into the hospital and it all just struck me. I didn’t have any idea what was going to happen.”

Life would change radically for the family, especially for Matt Vogel, who saw his older brother as his best friend.

“You’re talking about a guy who was always there for you growing up,” Matt Vogel said. “There was an eight-year difference but we were really close. He took me wherever I wanted to go. He was the person I always talked to no matter what.”

In addition to being his confidant, Christopher was Matt’s inspiration in sports. Growing up, Christopher played basketball, baseball and lacrosse and Matt wanted to follow in his big brother’s footsteps.

Baseball was Matt Vogel’s love and his older brother was a fixture at his games. Young and unsure, Matt Vogel wasn’t certain he wanted keep playing the game following his brother’s accident.

Vogel was ranked in the top 10 nationally at the time of his commitment by Perfect Game

“When I was 13, I didn’t even know if I wanted to play baseball anymore,” Matt Vogel said. “He was one of the main reasons I wanted to start. He also became a reason I wanted to stop. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to play anymore but then I decided I wanted to play for him.”

While Matt Vogel decided to keep playing baseball with his brother as his inspiration, it wasn’t always easy. It’s still not easy. Christopher, who Matt calls “Doe” because that’s what he said as a baby, was the person Matt always talked to. They played sports together, hung out and shared stories.

Those things aren’t possible anymore. Despite sleeping in the room right next door when he’s home, it’s sometimes difficult for Matt to see his older brother confined to a bed or a wheelchair unable to move, talk or show any kind of emotion.

“Sometimes it’s hard to go in there,” Vogel said. “It’s hard to see what I see. I’ll go in there, talk to him and tell him how my day was sometimes but I don’t do it often. It’s hard having a friend, a brother who has been there since Day 1 and all of a sudden, you have no one to talk to. I bottle up everything because he was my number one person to talk to. There’s no one to replace him. I feel bad not going into his room much but I just can’t do it.”

Matt Vogel always remembers those talks, afternoons on the field and the good times they spent together though. He’s done his best to make his brother proud. Christopher, or Doe, is still Matt’s inspiration.

Matt Vogel doesn’t need to walk into the room next door, he just needs to look down at his chest where a tattoo with a variation of the Superman logo sits. Instead of the “S,” there is a “C,” for Christopher. Above the tattoo is the phrase, “Forever my Superman” with the nickname “Doe” beneath the logo.

“He’s my motivation,” Matt Vogel said. “If I’m in a hard workout, in a tough spot in a game, he’s the first thing I think of. I mean, you do it for yourself, your family and your team, too, but I always think of my brother.

“I think about the good times and the bad. Whatever helps me get through what I’m going through. I really don’t complain about much. If I put my feet in his shoes, that’s bad. There’s no need for me to complain. I’m at a Division I school playing baseball and getting a great education.”

South Carolina freshman Matt Vogel calls his brother, Christopher, his Superman

When Matt Vogel, a right-handed pitcher, committed to the Gamecocks, he was ranked as one of the top 10 pitchers in the country by Perfect Game. He slipped some in the rankings due to a tired arm that caused him to shut down pitching for a while. Since he couldn’t compete in the big events, he dropped.

That didn’t scare away schools like South Carolina, Florida, and others though. Vogel, who consistently showed a low-90s fastball that climbed up to as high as 93 mph in the prep ranks, was among the top players in the country.

“I’d hope that he’s proud of me,” Matt Vogel said. “I really wish he could see everything that’s happened. Ever since the accident, two gold medals I’ve won, Louisville Slugger All-American. All-State, blah, blah, blah. It’s just crazy that he’s not able to be a part of it.”

For Christopher Vogel, there’s not really a long-term prognosis. The family motto is “Believe,” which can be found on a pair of bracelets that Matt wears.

“You can’t predict anything,” Vogel said. “There’s nothing to say he’s going to snap out of it, or whatever. He could wake up tomorrow or never wake up.”

Not many people, especially in his new hometown, know the story of Matt Vogel’s older brother, Christopher. Now, people know the story. Without the story, Matt Vogel may not be where he is today.

“If people want to hear about it, I want them to hear. I want them to know what I’ve been through. I want people to know that things happen in life, things suck, but that’s not a reason to turn your back on all of the good things that happen.”

Q&A with Vogel

Vogel was up to 96 mph on the radar gun this fall in scrimmages for the Gamecocks

Take us back to recruiting - why did you pick South Carolina? … The reason why I chose South Carolina - it definitely was my first choice but I had no idea they were interested in me. When my coach told me South Carolina was interested, I was speechless. I went down for my unofficial visit and fell in love with the campus. I met all the coaches and had a blast on campus. After that, I knew I wanted to be a Gamecock.

When you look back at your recruitment, are there any crazy behind-the-scenes stories or secrets that you haven’t told before? … Before I knew South Carolina was interested in me, I was thinking about committing to Florida when USC and Florida were playing in the College World Series against each other. I was kind of a Gator fan.

What are your goals for your first season at South Carolina? … Just to try to help the team win as many games as possible. Playing a role - competing for a starting role or a reliever role - as long as I can help the team win in any way possible, I’m fine with that.

What have the coaches told you about how you fit in to the program you first year? What do they see your role? … I believe I can compete for one of the last starting roles. I’m just going to bring my A-game.

What is it going to be like to play for coach Holbrook? … The first time I ever met him, I knew he was a great guy. I can’t wait to be coached by him. He’s a laid back guy and I just can’t wait to be coached by him.

Who are some guys you’ve gotten to know in this class or already on the team? … I’ve gotten to know a few of the guys - Tyler Haswell, Logan Koch, Jackson Smith. We’re all kind of familiar with each other.

What are some of the things you’ve been doing to prepare yourself before you enroll? … I’ve definitely been working out every day trying to get stronger physically and mentally. Academically, I’m trying to stay on top of that too.

What are the goals for this 2013 class? … That’s easy - win another College World Series. I look at the roster and there are a lot of great returning players. All of the freshmen who are coming in, I think our team can be pretty good. We’re going to win some ball games this year.

Do you have a message to the fans? … I hope they’re ready to see a New Yorker in South Carolina. I’m going to try to help the team win. I can’t wait to be on the field with all the fans packing Carolina Stadium.

Getting to know Matt

If you’re not playing baseball or working out, you’re … I’m just a laid back type of guy. I like to lay by the pool in the back yard or go to the beach. One of my favorite things to do no matter what is just to hang out with my family.

Secret talent … I don’t really have any secret talents. When I listen to music, I sing along and think I sound really good but everyone tells me I’m not a good singer.

What’s something most people don’t know about you? … When everyone hears a New Yorker is coming to South Carolina, everyone things of a New Yorker as a hard-assed type of guy, has an attitude problem. I’m a mellow guy. I’m laid back and just chill. I don’t have an attitude and I’m coming to South Carolina to have fun.

Favorite food … Any type of Italian food.

Favorite pro team/athlete … The New York Mets, unfortunately. My favorite player, and it’s weird because I’m a Mets fan, but my favorite players are Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.

Player you model your game after … I try to model my game after Justin Verlander and I’ve started watching Matt Harvey a lot.

ESPN and MLB Network don’t count. What’s your favorite TV show … Probably Two and a Half Men when Charlie Sheen was on there.

Favorite movie … I have like three. Remember the Titans, The Sandlot and The Patriot.

Favorite musician … That’s a hard one. Probably J Cole.

Hottest actress/artist … Oh shoot. I used to be a big Kim Kardashian fan but she doesn’t look as good after having the baby. I’m going to have to say probably Sandra Bullock is up there. She’s a beautiful woman.

Other getting-to-know features

RHP Reed Scott: Scott sports strike-throwing arm
C Logan Koch: Koch ready to accept his role
RHP/1B Taylor Widener: Widener ready to make his mark
Util. Elliott Caldwell: ‘I’m so glad I’m a Gamecock’
RHP Tyler Haswell: Haswell catches Carolina’s eye
LHP John Parke: Parke preparing for important role
RHP Canaan Cropper: One inning caught Carolina’s eye
RHP Jackson Smith: From anxiety to excitement
OF Gene Cone already making his name
RHP Wil Crowe: Humble Crowe just hopes to help
INF Marcus Mooney: Recruited to fill a void
OF Jae Roberts: Getting healthy, hitting
OF Zack Madden: Madden found his home
INF Matt Williams: Williams brings versatility to Carolina

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