Detroit — Back in 2017, Twins reliever Randy Dobnak was pitching for the Utica Unicorns in the United Shore Professional Baseball League.
He was making around $700 a month, playing in a four-team independent league in a stadium built on a landfill in a state he’d never been to and in a city he’d never heard of before he signed — Utica.
Just to remind himself how far he was away from his dreams in those days, he went to one Tigers game and sat in right field, underneath the Pepsi Porch. It never would have occurred to him that he’d ever pitch at Comerica Park.
"That was the last thing I was thinking about,” said Dobnak, who gave up two singles but struck out three in a scoreless eighth inning Saturday. “It's crazy to think that was only two years ago."
Dobnak, 24, who went undrafted out of Division II Alderson-Broaddus University in West Virginia, may not have been at Comerica Park this weekend had one of his teammates not been the son of former big-leaguer, and Detroit native, Jim Essian.
Essian happened to be the manager of the Utica team.
“He called me up and said 'I've got a spot for you,’” Dobnak recalled. “I said, 'I'll be there.’ That was my only in."
His other ‘in’ is an elite-level sinker, which bird dogs watching the USPBL games that summer quickly saw. The Twins signed him on Aug. 1, 2017. He recounted that day to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“It was in the morning,” Dobnak said. “I normally get up and cook eggs. I got a text from Jim Essian and he asked for my birthday. I said, ‘Whatever,’ and I gave it to him. Thirty minutes later, a random number shows up on my phone. I always have a habit of picking up for no reason.
“I think it was Brady Steil, the old farm director of the Twins. He said, ‘Long story short, we want to sign you.’ I was like, ‘Ahhhhhh ... absolutely.’ It all happened within 20 or 30 minutes. Next thing I know, I’m packing my bags.”
And almost before he could catch his breath, he was in Triple-A waiting for the next breathtaking phone call.
He ascended from rookie ball to Triple-A in less than three years. Used primarily as a starter, he was 24-9 with a 2.91 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP in three minor-league seasons.
The call to the Twins came on Aug. 8.
"That was unbelievable,” he said. “I was speechless. I didn't really have any feelings other than like 'Wow, this is really happening.'"
He’s got into two games for the Twins before Saturday, pitching seven innings without allowing an earned run (two unearned runs). He’s even earned a save.
“When I went to play independent ball, I said I’ll try this for a year,” Dobnak told the Post-Gazette. “If nothing happens, I’ll move on with my life. But now I’m here with the Twins organization. It’s been a wild ride, to say the least.”
According to a report by The Athletic, right-hander Bryan Garcia, who is not presently on the Tigers 40-man roster, will be among the call-ups from Triple-A Toledo. He could be in Detroit on Sunday.