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Wednesday May 24, 2017
Blair Kubicek and a life in baseball
Story by: Dustin Saracini
Okotoks, AB - Ahead of Opening Day and before the roar of a packed house, there is the preparation.
Few people comprehend the amount of work that goes on between the fenced off walls of Seaman Stadium prior to the Okotoks Dawgs first pitch in June.
The grass needs to be freshly cut, lines done, infield raked and taken care of, the concourse needs to be prepped, offices need to be finished and ready for staff to work, nets need to be safety inspected … this is just the short list of things.
Behind the scenes, staff of the Dawgs see one man jaunting around the complex from one finished job to another -- “Mr. Baseball Alberta,” and hall of famer, Blair Kubicek.
The journey for Kubicek -- or Kubie, for short -- started long before the Dawgs were born. He was a professional baseball player in the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates organization, a scout with the Cleveland Indians and the founder of Prairie Baseball Academy.
“People say, ‘how long have you been in this game?’” Kubicek said.
“I always say, when I started to play, I had to shoo the dinosaurs off the field,” he laughed.
“1951 was the first time my mother made me a baseball uniform and I walked onto the field as a bat boy.”
He can remember picking up the lumber for the New York Yankees affiliate in Victoria, where his father played. Kubicek joked about getting in the way of the players at times, but, in the end, the team inspired him to stay in the game his whole life -- thankfully he did.
Prior to founding the Prairie Baseball Academy in Lethbridge in 1995, where he was subsequently inducted into their Hall of Fame, Kubicek was involved in both sides of professional baseball.
“In ‘69 I went down to the Pirates [organization],” he said.
“When I got down there, it just so happens in 1969, all the guys that played in the 1971 World Series, and won it, were in that Spring Training, and I was bright enough to look at them all and say ‘man, I’m not as good as those guys, I better get out of this business and go coach some place.’”
Heeding his own advice, he coached college ball in Seattle at Edmonds Community College while scouting players in Western Canada for the Indians. He characterizes his experience with Cleveland as “interesting.”
“One of my trips was, Seattle, to Lethbridge, to Medicine Hat, to Calgary, to Kamloops and home. I did that in eight days and saw about 30 baseball games,” he said.
“I didn’t get to bed before midnight, and was up at eight o’clock in the morning, and I had to write a game report on every guy I thought had the chance to play in the big leagues.”
This type of skill proved to be beneficial for Kubicek, who went on to send 129 young ball players across the border on scholarships via the Prairie Baseball Academy. He had another 26 players drafted by Major League Baseball teams.
All of this time on a baseball field, which in his eyes has added up to over 3500 games, accumulated into him becoming a resounding force behind the success of Seaman Stadium. If you walk around the concourse, you will find the Dawgs Hall of Fame. Right next to Don Seaman and Bob Elliott, a picture of Kubicek stands. Under his name reads:
“Visionary, Founder and Head Coach of the Prairie Baseball Academy in Lethbridge from inception in 1995 to 2010. Lead builder of Nolan Yard in Lethbridge. Key member of the team that built Seaman Stadium, Tourmaline Field and Conrad Field in Okotoks. Responsible for numerous Dawgs and other Canadian baseball prospects being recognized by U.S. College coaches and Major League scouts.”
One point stands out; Kubicek is a builder. Whether it’s keeping the field in pristine condition or providing the ladder up for a player to get to the next level, Kubicek is there to lend a hand. When you ask him about his Hall of Fame nod, the 68-year-old is humble, and looks at those who surround him rather than himself.
“The guy that needs the credit for here is John Ircandia,” he said.
“John wanted to bring the vision to Alberta and particularly to Calgary … [we] came over here and he said ‘Kubie, do you think we can build a ballpark here?’ And I said of course we can. He’s got the passion and I’ve got the will and the ability to do it. I had already built a ballpark in Lethbridge, I’d been minor league groundskeeper of the year, I had the background. One of my true passions is building these facilities, these playing surfaces, knowing that, long after I’m gone and dead there will still be kids out here playing.”
“That’s the joy I get in it,” he continued.
“I’ve been around baseball a long, long time and with what Don McLeod did before me and with me and what Chris Friesen does now in taking care of those grounds out there, this, without question, and there’s no bologne in this, this would be one of the top 20 playing surfaces in the world.”
Kubicek goes on to say that the accolades he receives feel great, but it’s not what he works for. He works to be a part of something bigger than himself, bigger than anyone for that matter.
If you’re around the office, you may hear him call himself a “custodian,” but don’t let that fool you. He has done an incredible amount for baseball. Born on the east coast in Nova Scotia, he made a name for himself on the west coast, continually delivering on improving the baseball culture north of the border.
Now, he finds himself in Okotoks, prepping for yet another season of Dawgs baseball, and there’s nothing else he’d rather be doing.
“Not a thing,” he smiles.
“Life is pretty good for an old fart.”
The collegiate Dawgs open their season June 2 against the Medicine Hat Mavericks at Seaman Stadium. First pitch flies at 7:05pm.
Get your tickets here: http://od1.glitnirticketing.com/odticket/web/ev_cal.php?events_usersDate=2017