Friday, September 6, 2013

Interview Part 1: Ken Krahenbuhl, Still Pitched

Fiscalini Field in San Bernardino in 2012, home to the San Bernardino Valley College baseball team. Ken Krahenbuhl played at San Bernardino Valley, making his comeback from arm surgery. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: Still Pitched | Part 2: Same Field | Part 3: Focus On

About 10 minutes before the game, Ken Krahenbuhl heard the trade details and he was not happy.

He had just flown to Mississippi from California, making it to his new club by game-time, and in time to start that night's game. 

"I was pissed," Krahenbuhl recalled recently to The Greatest 21 Days of that 1998 independent league trade. "I was like, 'You're going to trade your best pitcher for a player you'll never get, a little bit of cash and catfish?"

And Catfish. Krahenbuhl, who had pushed for a trade from his independent team in California over team financial troubles, had been traded for catfish.

"I felt like they were trying to embarrass me for wanting to leave the team," Krahenbuhl added.

In the end, though, it wasn't Krahenbuhl who was embarrassed. It was his old team, the Pacific Suns, who were embarrassed. 

That's because Krahenbuhl channeled that anger over the trade terms into that night's start: The guy who was traded for catfish went out that night and was literally perfect.
A handout commemorating Ken Krahenbuhl's 1998 perfect game for the Greenville Bluesmen. (Photo Provided)
With that, Krahenbuhl recalled, the story quickly turned, and got bigger than anyone expected.

"It went from the guy that got traded for fish," Krahenbuhl recalled, "to 'look at that stupid team that traded their best pitcher for catfish, and he throws a perfect game.'"

For Krahenbuhl, the story might just as well have been that Krahenbuhl was still pitching at all.

Krahenbuhl threw that perfect game at the end of a career that saw him undergo three serious arm surgeries, one before his professional career even started. And after each surgery, Krahenbuhl underwent three grueling rehabilitations, and made it back to the field.

Krahenbuhl spoke with The Greatest 21 Days recently by phone from his California home. Krahenbuhl spoke about the trade that made him famous, and a trivia answer.

But he also spoke about what got him there, growing up in Southern California drawing the interests of scouts at the age of 16 with a 90 mph fastball, all as the son of foster parents.
Ken Krahenbuhl in 2012 at his new job as a youth baseball coach. (Photo Provided)
He also spoke of turning pro, his constant battle with injuries, his new baseball life in independent ball and his ultimate turn to coaching youth and helping them get to college.

Krahenbuhl grew up in San Bernardino, graduating from San Bernardino's Cajon High School. He recalled playing baseball as early as 5 years old. But his real introduction didn't come until four years later, when he was 9.

That's when he broke out a window at school throwing a rock.

At that point, Krahenbuhl had alrady been taken in by his foster parents. His biological parents' problems with alcohol prevented them from raising him.

So his foster parents ended up raising him into an adult, the same family throughout. "I was always grateful for them for what they had done for me," Krahenbuhl said.

One of the things they did for him, he recalled, was really introduce him to baseball.

That came after the 9-year-old Krahenbuhl got in trouble throwing those rocks at school. He then went home and faced his foster father.

"When I got home, instead of punishing me," Krahenbuhl recalled, "my foster father told me, 'Hey, instead of doing something negative, why won't we teach you how to play baseball?"
Fiscalini Field in San Bernardino in 2012. Ken Krahenbuhl grew up in San Bernardino and now coaches youth there. (G21D Photo)
And that's what they did. Soon, Krahenbuhl wasn't breaking windows anymore, he was breaking radar guns. At the age of 16, Krahenbuhl recalled his fastball being clocked at 90 mph. That came from a scout.

At that point, Krahenbuhl was interested in both football and baseball. After clocking Krahenbuhl at 90, the scout gave Krahenbuhl some quick advice about his football career: Focus on baseball.

"I threw one pitch 90, at 16 years old, and that was pretty much it," Krahenbuhl recalled. "Every scout was calling me up."

By the time he was a senior, Krahenbuhl had the interest of top college programs, too. He even had a scholarship to USC in-hand.

Then came the local All-Star Clash, between All-Star seniors from Krahenbuhl's San Bernardino County and rival Riverside County.

In that game, came the first of the San Bernardino All-Star's injuries. He blew out his arm, an injury that required Tommy John surgery. Gone was his scholarship to USC. Also gone, maybe, was his chance at the pros.

Krahenbuhl recalled the turn of events as devastating. The surgery, he recalled, was just the start of the process.

"It was tough," Krahenbuhl recalled of the rehab. "I had to go every single day, five days a week, for 10 months. The surgery isn't the hard part, it's the rehab - that's the hard part."

But he made it back. And Krahenbuhl's path now included junior college, at San Bernardino Valley. It was there that Krahenbuhl met one of his mentors, he recalled.
Fiscalini Field in San Bernardino in 2012. Fiscalini hosts the San Bernardino Valley College baseball team. (G21D Photo)
That was Stan Sanchez, who went on to coach at Colorado State University-Pueblo. Sanchez, Krahenbuhl recalled, surrounded him with minor leaguers from the area. "They would teach me what pro ball was all about," Krahenbuhl said.

Krahenbuhl's last year at San Bernardino Valley, Krahenbuhl was back to form. That year, he said, he felt 100 percent again.

He also got interest from scouts again. After all that, it was the Cubs who selected Krahenbuhl, taking him in the 19th round of the draft.

"It was awesome," Krahenbuhl recalled, and not just because he was simply drafted. It was also awesome because the scout that signed him was Spider Jorgensen, who played with Jackie Robinson in both Montreal and Brooklyn.

"I got to hear all the Jackie Robinson stories from Spider Jorgensen," Krahenbuhl recalled.

As a Cub, though, Krahenbuhl's arm problems returned. And it took another surgery comeback to make his professional debut.

Go to Part 2: Ken Krahenbuhl, Same Field

Part 1: Still Pitched | Part 2: Same Field | Part 3: Focus On

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