Ex-Tulane standout Brian Bogusevic relishes ‘special’ opportunity to play for United States at Pan American Games _lowres

Digital Photographic Imaging photo -- The Lehigh Valley IronPigs' Brian Bogusevic

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — As July 1 neared, Brian Bogusevic knew he could be playing baseball elsewhere.

The former Tulane standout has been among the leaders in several offensive categories for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Philadelphia Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate, and has been among the team’s steadier outfielders. He had played all three positions, with center field his primary home.

Yet Bogusevic had an opt-out date of July 1 if he wasn’t on a major league roster as a clause in the contract he signed with the Phillies last winter.

At age 31, Bogusevic realized the odds were working against him to land a full-time spot on a roster. The Tulane Hall of Famer, who hit .330 and also won 25 games as a pitcher there, has seen his professional career come full-circle, from a pitcher in the Houston organization for his first four seasons to a stellar outfielder more recently.

As July 1 passed, Bogusevic had his bags packed. But his destination proved to be a certain one, as well as a lifetime opportunity.

Bogusevic left Saturday to join the United States team at the Pan American Games from July 10-19 in Toronto. He will spend a few days training with team members in Durham, North Carolina, before leaving for Toronto. The 24-man roster is comprised of players who are not in the major leagues.

For Bogusevic, it was a pleasant surprise.

“It is really an honor, and I’m happy,” the soft-spoken Bogusevic said. “Anytime you can play for your country, it is something special. I really didn’t have any idea this was going to happen. I was contacted a couple of months ago to see if I would have any interest. I knew they would move forward from there. This is more special, considering baseball isn’t an Olympic sport anymore.”

Bogusevic downplayed the opt-out situation, stating he preferred to stay with Lehigh Valley. In turn, the IronPigs are glad he stayed.

He hit nearly .400 in May. He had an 11-game hitting streak followed by a career-high 12-game stint, and he never went hitless in back-to-back starts over a span of 64 games.

The left-handed swinger entered the weekend hitting .306 and has been among the top 10 hitters in the league all season. He also began play as the team leader in home runs (six) and RBIs (34).

“He has all the tools to be a big league player,” IronPigs manager Dave Brundage said. “He has done everything we have asked of him. He has really pieced together a solid season here. He goes about his business in a professional manner, and he is the type of player you want in your clubhouse.”

In spite of his success, Bogusevic admittedly hasn’t changed his routine.

“Everybody in baseball goes through their share of ups, downs and middles,” he said. “I really can’t put my finger on it. I was seeing the ball well for a while. Once I started to get a couple hits, my confidence built and it continued. It’s really part of the game. Over the years, I have had some good and bad spurts. I just feel fortunate to have had a good season.”

Along with his consistent hitting, Bogusevic quickly has become acclimated to his current surroundings. Lehigh Valley is his fifth spot at Triple-A in a career that began in 2007.

Bogusevic played four consecutive seasons in the majors beginning in 2010 — three with Houston and one with the Chicago Cubs. He played in a career-high 146 games with the Astros in 2012.

His goal is to get back to the big leagues, but Lehigh Valley is a pleasant holding pattern.

“The fans here are great, and so is the organization,” he said. “This is also a nice stadium. I have been to a few Triple-A situations, and it has been really enjoyable here.”

As for his future, Bogusevic plans to welcome any chance, as long as he is healthy. At Lehigh Valley, he has been injury-free, an obstacle that has plagued him in the past. He spent two stints on the disabled list with the Zephyrs last season.

“I really don’t have a timetable,” he said. “I enjoy the game and plan on playing as long as I can. As long as I can still contribute and enjoy the game on a day-to-day basis, I’ll be out there. Last year was difficult because I battled a broken shin bone all year. This year, I feel good and healthy.”

His strong season certainly has been noticed.

“Brian is waiting for an opportunity,” said Joe Jordan, the Phillies’ director of player development. “He has been very consistent this season and has controlled what he can. If he continues, he will be in a good situation.”

Once his career ends, Bogusevic has entertained thoughts about staying in the game.

“I don’t have any specific plans right now about my future,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind doing something in baseball. It has been a big part of my life, and I would like to give something back.”

For the time being, he plans to be a contributor as he works his way back to the major leagues.