Friday, August 8, 2014

Interview Part 1: Ted Kubiak, Loved Baseball

Mahoning Valley Scrappers manager Ted Kubiak in the Bruno Stadium dugout in Troy, NY in August 2014 more than 50 years after his start in the game. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: Loved Baseball | Part 2: Major Leaguer
Part 3: His Gut

TROY, NY - Ted Kubiak never considered baseball as a career growing up in New Jersey. He probably fantasized about it as a kid, he admits, but it never dawned on him that he could do it.

Then, after high school, he got invited to a tryout camp. Then he got invited to the second day.

He was then sat in the dugout and invited to start his professional career with the Kansas City Athletics.

"They asked me and it just kind of turned my world around a little bit," Kubiak recalled to The Greatest 21 Days recently.

He'd planned to go to college. But this was a chance to play pro baseball. He recalled asking his parents for advice. They let him decide.

Kubiak recalled thinking his parents wanted him to choose college. But he chose the pros.

"Probably because I just loved baseball," Kubiak recalled of that decision more than 50 years ago. "I mean, it was such a strange opportunity to be given. "It wasn't given to very many kids, I don't think."
Scrappers manager Ted Kubiak coaching third base. Kubiak has been managing in the minors for a quarter century. (G21D Photo)
Kubiak took that opportunity all the way to the majors, staying there for a decade. Then, after time away from the game, he returned as a manager in the minors, spending his early time at single-A Modesto. He's been in the minors ever since. For 2014, he's managing at short-season Mahoning Valley.

Kubiak spoke with The Greatest 21 Days recently at Joe Bruno Stadium in Troy, NY, before his Scrappers took on the Valley Cats in a New York-Penn League contest.

Kubiak told of his time growing up in New Jersey, then working to make the major leagues as a pro. As a pro, he told of playing for the three-time world champion Athletics teams as a utility player, but also proving he could be a regular with the Brewers.

Then he told of getting back into the game a decade after he left it, doing so as a manager in the minors. He's been with the Indians since 1994, managing in the NYPL nine of those seasons.

Kubiak grew up in New Brunswick, NJ. Baseball. He played all sports, but baseball was the one he liked. He ended up playing it well enough to get invited to that tryout camp.

He recalled 20-30 kids betting invited. The first day, he didn't recall doing much, but he did enough. After the second day, the offer from the Athletics came.

"Well I was shocked," Kubiak recalled. "I was sat in the dugout and they asked me. I didn't know what they wanted me to do. I didn't know anything about the process. I was blind to everything."
Ted Kubiak coaches third as a Scrappers runner slides into second in August 2014 at Bruno Stadium in Troy, NY. (G21D Photo)
He responded that he had to talk to his parents. They told him the decision was his. He chose the pros.

Kubiak also intended to return to college in the off season. He did so well that first year, though, there was no off season as he went to instructional league and winter ball. "I still regret that," Kubiak said of not getting back to school.

Once he was a pro, though, Kubiak was sure where he would end up.

"The strange thing was, once I signed," Kubiak said, "there was never any doubt in my mind I was going to play in the major leagues. I don't know why. I certainly had no clue of the ability I had. I didn't know what I was going to have to be like, how much I was going to have to improve."

He also wasn't a great player in the minors, he was an average player, he recalled.

"But I just had a drive or an intensity," Kubiak said. "I was always focused on what I needed to do to improve every day, day to day to day, and I never wavered from that feeling."

Kubiak started at Class D Sarasota, making single-A Binghamton in 1962. He got brief looks at AA in Binghamton in 1963 and AAA Dallas in 1964. By 1966, he was at AAA Vancouver for the Athletics, hitting .260 there.

There were times he wondered if he made the right decision, he recalled. But he got through those times.
Scrappers manager and third base coach Ted Kubiak congratulates Francisco Mejia on reaching third in an August 2014 game. (G21D Photo.)
He recalled one year early on where he was advanced too high, jumping three levels and he struggled. But then he was dropped back down to compete with guys his own age and talent level and he did well.

It was around that time that Kubiak also learned a new skill, switch hitting. He credited that with turning his career around.

He made Kansas City out of spring training in 1967. He was out of options, which made getting sent down unlikely. He debuted that April.

Along the way, Kubiak's defense shined. He recalled getting voted his league's best defensive shortstop in the minors multiple times.

"I was absolutely ready defensively," Kubiak recalled. "I don't think I could have been any better defensively than I was at that time."

Hittingwise, he wasn't so sure.

"But I was surprised when I got to the big leagues because I didn't find the pitching that much better," Kubiak said. "It was more consistent, but it was still pretty much the same and that kind of surprised me.

"I said, 'well, I guess I can do this."

And Kubiak did do it. He did played in the majors for 10 seasons, getting into nearly 1,000 games. He also played in two World Series for the Oakland Athletics.

Part 1: Loved Baseball | Part 2: Major Leaguer
Part 3: His Gut
Go to Part 2: Ted Kubiak, Major Leaguer

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