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 ten 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. It worked out a little better for him as he reached the pinnacle of success in the Major Leagues after toiling for years in the minors through releases and injuries.
Daubach’s story begins in Belleville, Illinois, 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,” the Senators’ manager recalls, “That’s where I grew up.”
Unlike now where there are many opportunities like AAU and showcases to play year round, his only outlet for baseball after the high school season was over was to play 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. But Daubach had a change of plans before enrolling as a Billiken. 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 who was drafted by the Reds in the 23rd round of the same draft). He was a big prospect in the area,” Daubach said. 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 suddenly he was off on only the second flight of his entire life to head to Sarasota to play for their team in the Gulf Coast League. Facing a level of play he had rarely encountered in Illinois, Daubach struggled to begin the season and felt overmatched, “I started out like 3-for-21 and it was just getting handed to me. I was flustered.” 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 it is.”
Filled with doubt and uncertainty, Daubach came awful close to calling it quits on the backfields of the Mets’ complex two weeks into his professional career. “I remember my dad and grampa 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 instead 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 off-seasons. 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 Sally League, “That year turned me around. I went to play in Columbia, South Carolina for the Capital City Bombers and (current 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 of 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 recollected, “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 RBIs. For his efforts, Daubach shockingly found himself released by the club, “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 though, as his winter league manager (and former Senators’ manager) Dave Jauss used his influence as first-base coach for the Boston Red Sox to sign the burgeoning slugger. They 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 recalled, “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.”
From there, you likely know the story if you are familiar with baseball. 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 major league career, he hit 20+ home runs in four straight seasons and collected a World Series ring for his time with the 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox.
If any of his players need a role model or someone to follow the example of, they need to look no further than Daubach. He has walked in their shoes and been through every emotional and physical roadblock on the path only to emerge out 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 didn’t hesitate, “The bottom line is you just have to believe in yourself.”