The fortunate few get to root in person for their hometown team in a World Series. Brian Daubach, who grew up twenty miles from St. Louis, lived out that dream as a 10-year-old boy, attending a game during the 1982 Fall Classic as the Cardinals took on the Milwaukee Brewers. He thought it would be the highlight of his baseball life.
He was wrong.
Daubach’s story begins in Belleville, Ill., located in the southwest corner of the state, as the first born to his parents, Dale and Angie. Two younger brothers, Brent and Brad, would follow, and like most houses filled with boys, sports were an essential part of each and every day. Brian played soccer, basketball, and football growing up, but in the Daubach household, baseball was always the sport of choice. His dad played in high school, and after entering the working world and starting a family, he settled into a three-to-four nights a week habit of playing softball. “We were always at the softball fields. The kids would always be together playing pickle, 500, or some kind of game,” Daubach recalls, “That’s where I grew up.”
Today, there are many opportunities for youths to play baseball year-round, like AAU and showcases. For Daubach, though, the only outlet for baseball after the high-school season was over was to play American Legion ball. It was during the season after his junior year that he ended up posting good numbers for the summer, and drew an offer to play at Division I St. Louis University. However, he eschewed his commitment to SLU after getting drafted by the New York Mets in the 17th round of the 1990 amateur draft. “I don’t think I would have been drafted if it wasn’t for a kid named Joe Wallace (from Granite City High School; Wallace was drafted by the Reds in the 23rd round of the same draft). He was a big prospect in the area,” Daubach says. Scouts that came to see Wallace in a game between the two schools left impressed with the kid in the other dugout. “He was a catcher and I was a catcher, and I had a really good game that day. I think I had four hits and threw out two runners stealing.”
Daubach accepted what the Mets offered, and took only the second flight of his entire life, to Sarasota, Fla., to play for the Mets affiliate in the Gulf Coast League. Facing a level of play he had rarely encountered in Illinois, Daubach struggled to begin the season. He felt overmatched, “I started out like 3-for-21 and it was just getting handed to me. I was flustered,” he says. The newly converted first baseman was also having hard time with his transition to independent life. “I had a high school girlfriend and I was missing home and everything,” Daubach said, “I guess people go through it, especially high-school kids. It’s like going away to college. That’s all it really is.”
Filled with doubt and uncertainty, Daubach came close to calling it quits on the backfields of the Mets’ complex two weeks into his professional career. “I remember my dad and grandpa came down. They drove through the night to get there. They were ready to take me home if I was really that sure I didn’t want to play.” But fate and a hot day at the plate intervened, “The day they got there, I had three hits and I never looked back. Once I tasted some success, I was fine.”
Daubach’s route to the Majors wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops, however, as he underwent knee surgery in two straight offseasons. But those trials and tribulations seemed to focus Daubach, who batted .280 and drove in a team-high 72 runs during his 1993 season in the South Atlantic League, “That year turned me around. I went to play in Columbia, South Carolina for the Capital City Bombers and (former Texas Rangers’ manager) Ron Washington was my manager. It was his first time managing and he was just a real positive guy. He was the first person that made me believe that I could do this. He might not have believed it, but he made me believe it, and that’s a big thing. I try to pass that on to our players, too.”
The next bump in the road occurred when he repeated a level, Double-A, for the first time. Under Binghamton manager John Tamargo both seasons, Daubach was pushed to excel, and he responded with his finest professional season, posting career bests in seven offensive categories—including home runs and on-base percentage. “I got called up to Triple-A for a month, six weeks and I didn’t play all that much. I asked them to go back to Double-A just so I could play,” Daubach recalls. “I knew I was a six-year free agent at the end of the year, and I just wanted an opportunity to play and put up some numbers and be seen. We played Portland in the playoffs, who were affiliated with the Marlins at the time, and I had a really good series against them. They signed me that winter.”
Daubach followed with two sensational years at Triple-A Charlotte and was named the Marlins’ Organizational Player of the Year after a 1998 season that saw him post a .316 batting average while leading the International League with 45 doubles, 35 home runs, and 124 RBI. For his efforts, Daubach found himself released by the club. He was shocked. “It was weird. I wasn’t a Marlins guy, I wasn’t drafted by them. My first year, they were winning a World Series, and the next year they were trading everybody. I felt like I was too young my first year at 25, with no big-league experience, and the next year I was too old, at 26, with no big league experience. I got to play, though. That’s the bottom line.”
Daubach wouldn’t remain a free agent for long, as his winter league manager Dave Jauss used his influence as first-base coach for the Boston Red Sox to sign the burgeoning slugger. There weren’t any guarantees on playing time, but there was an opportunity, as the team had just lost Mo Vaughn to free agency and Reggie Jefferson was on the disabled list with a bad back. “I just took advantage of it and ran with it. I made the club out of Opening Day, which was unbelievable, especially to go to a place like Fenway when I wasn’t sure I was ever going to make the big leagues,” Daubach says. “By mid-May I was playing every day, and batting third for the Boston Red Sox. From where I came two or three years before that, not a lot of people would believe that.”
Daubach finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting for the American League, as he led the Red Sox to their first League Championship Series appearance in nine years. Over his eight-year MLB career, he hit 20 or more home runs in four straight seasons and collected a World Series ring for his time with the 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox.
The 2015 campaign will mark Daubach’s fifth season managing in the Washington Nationals organization, and if any of his players need a role model or someone of whom to follow the example, they need to look no further than their skipper. He has walked in their shoes and been through every emotional and physical roadblock on the path, only to emerge on the other end with a productive Major League career. When asked what he learned along the way that he can pass on to this crop of twentysomethings chasing their dreams, Daubach doesn’t hesitate, “The bottom line is you just have to believe in yourself.”
Mick Reinhard (@Mayflies) covers the Harrisburg Senators (Washington Nationals’ AA affiliate) as a credentialed media member and contributing writer to PennLive / The Patriot-News. Here at Banished to the Pen, Mick will post various interviews and stories that encapsulate the minor league experience along with profiles of prospects on their way to The Show.Next post: Dayton Signs Unmoored Volquez to Anchor Back of Royals’ Rotation
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