By: J.P. Antonacci
Canadian Baseball Network
Jarrett Grube is willing to go just about anywhere to keep playing the game he loves.
The itinerant pitcher’s long and winding baseball career has taken him up and down the minor-league ladder since being drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 2004. Grube has pitched in Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, the independent Atlantic League, the Arizona Fall League, an international competition in Japan and, briefly but memorably, on a major-league mound.
Now the 35-year-old finds himself in Dunedin as a non-roster invitee trying to make a good impression on the Toronto Blue Jays.
“Baseball is really fun to me still – just the guys in the clubhouse, the atmosphere, the progression of how things have evolved with workouts and training,” Grube said.
“I’m just a baseball guy. I just love the game (and) I still think I can do it. I stay in shape and all that, so I just take it a year at a time.”
Following a pair of clean innings to start his spring, Grube allowed two runs on a seeing-eye single in the ninth inning of Friday’s game against the New York Yankees.
“In my mind it’s kind of a process. I just want to try to improve a little bit every time I’m out,” he said.
So far, Grube’s major league career consists of seven pitches thrown on May 31, 2014.
After being called up earlier that day by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, he entered the game in the eighth inning, with one out and Oakland base runners at second and third.
The 32-year-old rookie induced future MVP Josh Donaldson to line out before giving up a three-run homer to Yoenis Cespedes. A line drive off the bat of Derek Norris ended the inning – and Grube’s stint in the bigs, as a few days later he was sent back to the minors.
“I was just trying to take it all in. I finally made one of my dreams come true,” Grube recalled of his debut before more than 35,000 fans at O.co Coliseum.
“Scioscy (Angels manager Mike Scioscia) handed me the ball. Throwing your warm-up pitches, you’re trying to calm it down and hone in,” he continued.
“Once you throw the first pitch, it turns into, ‘This is the game, I have to get this guy out.’ I wouldn’t say it calms you down a lot, but you’re more able to concentrate and focus on your task.”
Making it to the major leagues had been Grube’s dream since playing Little League baseball in his hometown of Corunna, Indiana.
“I grew up in a town of about 250 people, so you watch TV – in my area it was the Cubbies – and yeah, you want to be there. You play through high school and college and it becomes a bit more realistic. Then you get drafted – I was a tenth rounder – and it becomes something I chased for a long time.”
That chase saw Grube relocate at a moment’s notice in order to keep his dream of being a pro athlete alive.
“Opportunities have presented themselves,” he said, citing the example of playing in the Mexican League in 2015.
“My agent was talking with some teams and I couldn’t get a big-league invite. A team was in Cancun, and it seemed like a pretty good deal, so I thought, I’m going to go there for a few months, see what happens. And then the Indians picked me up, so I left. That ended up being one of my better years. You just never know what can happen.”
The right-hander’s stuff isn’t overpowering – he throws a four-seam fastball, sinker, slider, split finger and changeup – but over the years he has honed his repertoire and learned how to outsmart hitters.
“The slider is probably my go-to off-speed pitch,” Grube said. “I’ll speed it up a little bit, more like a cutter, and slow it down, make it a little loopier.”
Playing internationally has helped Grube develop his baseball IQ.
“Completely different environments, styles, swing types. Hitter types are different everywhere,” he said of his overseas experience. “It’s all challenging stuff, and I think it just builds a good foundation to try to be a solid pitcher, and a little more confidence to attack guys.”
Grube called it “an amazing experience” to play for his country against the top-ranked baseball nations in the world during the 2015 WBSC Premier12 tournament in Japan. The Americans won silver.“I was fortunate to be asked to play for that team and get picked to throw against Team Japan, which was favoured to win the tournament,” he said. “Awesome atmosphere, awesome environment.”
Bouncing around back roads on a minor-league team bus isn’t as glamorous as wearing the Stars and Stripes, but it comes with the territory for well-travelled hurlers like Grube.
“If you want to keep playing and making money for your family, sometimes you’ve gotta swallow your pride and go about your business,” said the married father of an 11-month-old daughter.
The Grube family still lives in Indiana, where Jarrett is a local celebrity in Corunna. “I have a good following back home in the area,” said the graduate of DeKalb High School in nearby Waterloo.
These days, fewer major leaguers play winter ball, as teams worry about the potential for injury and players’ workloads. But Grube embraced the chance to head south.
“I loved it, personally. I thought that we were treated pretty awesome over there,” he said.
“The thing I took away from it was all the passion the fans have. They’ll pack 20,000 or 30,000 into those games. For a young guy coming up from Double-A or Triple-A, it kind of prepared you for a big-league environment. And I mean, 30,000 there was like 60,000. It’s really loud. It was incredible.”
Grube realizes that throwing even one pitch in the major leagues puts him in rare company.
“I didn’t know if I was going to throw, necessarily,” he said of his call-up with the Angels. “Luckily I got in there, and it is something I won’t trade for anything, because I don’t know if it’ll happen again.”
The Seattle Mariners called him up last August, but he didn’t appear in any games.
Based on his solid track record over 376 career minor league appearances, Grube would serve as a reliable depth starter with Triple-A Buffalo. But it is a long season, and the pitcher known for his perseverance hopes for another opportunity to play at the highest level.
“It would mean the world,” Grube said of adding to his big-league resume with the Blue Jays.
“That’s my goal, to try and make it happen again. That would be my third team I got called up with, and there’s something to be said for that.”
Despite his proven determination to be a baseball player, Grube admitted to having moments during his globetrotting journey when he considered hanging up his glove for good.
“You have a down year and don’t know if you’re going to camp or being let go, or if anybody’s going to want you. The easiest thing to do is just give up,” he said.
“But if you have your mind right and you think you can do something or be something, you try to make it happen.”