Professional baseball is a business. David Kubiak knew that well before he entered the game. Actually experiencing the adverse affects of that business, however, is quite another thing.
The business of baseball took a bite out of Kubiak earlier this summer when a succession of roster shakeups led to him being granted his release from the New York Yankees organization.
An injury to Yankees pitcher Nathan Eovaldi and the signing of pitcher Phil Coke, who was then optioned to Triple-A, led to a trickle-down effect that Kubiak said led to him being dropped from the Trenton Thunder, the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate in New Jersey. The former Southold High School pitcher said he then went to Tampa and pitched well in extended spring training. A month after being sent down, Kubiak was told he could stay and play rookie ball. Kubiak, who turned 27 on Aug. 3, declined, was offered his release and accepted it.
By early July he was back with the Bridgeport Bluefish, the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball club that the Yankees purchased his contract from.
Kubiak said he did well in Trenton, his third minor league team, where he had a 1.42 ERA in three relief appearances over 6 1/3 innings, allowing three hits. Then he became a victim of the numbers game.
“It was kind of the wrong place at the wrong time and it kind of stunk because I was just starting to get settled in,” he said. “A lot of people thought when I signed, ‘Oh man, he’s going to the majors.’ It’s not that simple. The business is kind of crappy and doesn’t have feelings.”
The 6-foot-7, 245-pound Kubiak, who relies on a cutter, was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays out of Albany State University in the 36th round of the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft. He also pitched in the Atlanta Braves’ farm system. His two-year minor league record is 2-2 with a 2.84 ERA. He has 40 strikeouts against nine walks and 29 hits in 31 2/3 innings.
Kubiak didn’t sound discouraged during a recent phone interview with The Suffolk Times.
“Right now I have a one-track mind,” he said. “I’m trying to get to the big leagues. Nothing now is discouraging me. I’m just keeping my head down and grinding. I’ve been doing real well. I’ve been [throwing] like 93 [mph] all summer. I’m throwing well. All my numbers are real good.”
Kubiak was speaking the day after he pitched a rain-shortened game, going all seven innings in a 7-4 win over the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. The righthander gave up three earned runs, seven hits and one walk while fanning four.
This season Kubiak is 6-3 with a 2.90 ERA for the Bluefish through Monday.
Kubiak said the Atlantic League is comparable to Triple-A since it features older, more veteran players. It was with the Bluefish earlier this season, he said, when he had “one of the cooler baseball experiences I’ve had in my life.” That was when he pitched against the Long Island Ducks, with about 60 fans from Southold there to watch him pitch at Bethpage Ballpark.
He may get that sort of experience again. The Bluefish will visit the Ducks again for games on Sept. 5, 6, 7 and 8.
Another neat experience was meeting ex-MLB ace Roger Clemens. Clemens served as a guest manager for the Bluefish for a game that Kubiak started earlier this season.
“He was a real cool guy,” Kubiak said. “He was just a baseball guy, a nice dude.”
Although he likes Bridgeport, which is a ferry ride away from his Southold home, Kubiak wants to move on to a bigger stage. The fifth-year pro hasn’t given up his dream of one day becoming a major league player. When a reporter talked about what it would feel like for him, if and when, he made it to the majors, Kubiak interjected, “When.”
To help further that dream, he said he has spoken to a couple of teams about playing winter ball in Venezuela.
“I guess in the back of my mind I always had that dream of playing major league baseball when I was a kid, but it kind of became the dream of my life,” he said.
Kubiak said he can’t count how many times he thought about the phone call he would make to his parents, Richard and Susan, when he got the call he’s long been waiting for. Meanwhile, his desire to play in MLB still burns.
He said, “It’s definitely stronger than it’s ever been just because I know I’m that close.”
Photo caption: Roger Clemens, left, was the guest manager for the Bridgeport Bluefish for a game in which David Kubiak, right, started earlier this season. (Credit: courtesy photo)