Faith. Family. Baseball.
That’s what drives Rochester Honkers catcher Ryan Wrobleski.
The Eden Prairie native spends nine months of the year in Texas at Dallas Baptist University. It’s an environment that Wrobleski fell in love with on Day One. Sure, it helps that Dallas Baptist is one of the best baseball programs in the country. It doesn’t hurt that Wrobleski had a ton of success in his first year in Dallas, hitting .432 (16-for-37) with three home runs and nine runs batted in.
But the faith-driven Wrobleski was in heaven because he was surrounded by a group of like-minded players and coaches. It’s given Wrobleski peace during a time of upheaval throughout the world.
“Oh yeah, I love it down there,” Wrobleski said. “I’m biased, but I think our coaches are the best in the business. Just the way they develop players not only as baseball players but as human beings. I like the structure of it. It’s similar to the Yankees. You’re expected to do this stuff on the field but you’re also expected to be a good person off the field.
“Even if your performance isn’t up to the standard that you might want, they want you to be a leader and a positive voice when people don’t know who you are,” Wrobleski continued. “A lot of what they teach at school is promoting humility and a faith-driven way of learning how to play the game and the humility aspect is huge. It’s a new way of thinking. My dad went to Notre Dame and I wanted something similar to that where religion is integrated into everything you do. That was kind of the icing on the cake. No matter what, I was going to develop my faith. It’s a big deal to me. But having a school that guides me through that was huge for me.”
A SPRING WITHOUT BASEBALL
Baseball undoubtedly takes up a ton of time and can be grueling on both a catcher’s mind and body. So, when the coronavirus hit, Wrobleski had four months of downtime.
“I have two brothers that play baseball, so we were able to go a field together,” Wrobleski said. “We’d go there and hang out. That sounds weird but it’s the truth. Doing that kept me sane.”
Even during a shortened season at Dallas Baptist, Wrobleski still estimated that he lost 10 or 15 pounds. But it only took a week of rest and relaxation for his body to feel better. After 16 weeks of sitting on his hands, he was ready to get back on the field.
“I really did miss playing a lot,” Wrobleski said. “I missed being around the guys and competing. Being back makes you love the game even more because you cherish the moments that you get to play.”
He came back home to Eden Prairie and he didn’t want to leave Minnesota. Wrobleski starred for Rochester last season, when he was named to the Northwoods League All-Star team. Wrobleski was selected to play in the Major League Dreams Showcase and recorded the top pop time for a catcher (the time it takes a catcher to get the ball out of his glove and throw to second base) with a throw of 1.86 seconds.
When Rochester’s front office reached out to see if Wrobleski wanted to come back and play with the Honkers for the second summer in a row, it was an absolute no-brainer.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, of course, I want to come back,’” Wrobleski said. “It’s an hour from my house, I’m able to play baseball but see my family. It was a great balance for me. I rarely get to see my family and my close friends. Now, they’re able to come watch a game and then on our off days, it’s nice to go home and have a home-cooked meal.”
DALLAS BAPTIST REUNION
But he didn’t come back to Rochester alone. Two of his Dallas Baptist teammates joined Wrobleski on the roster. MacGregor Hines and Kragen Kechely have been two of the Honkers’ most leaned-on pitchers. Hines has started two games this season, and Kechely has been throwing up zeros in relief. Kechely hasn’t allowed an earned run in any of his five appearances and he’s struck out nine batters in 7 2/3 innings.
Baseball wasn't the only reason that Hines and Kechely came to Rochester, though. They also knew they could snag some food from the Wrobleski kitchen.
“We hang out with each other every day,” Wrobleski said. “On off days, we play golf together. They’re awesome guys. It’s cool to see my worlds collide a little bit. They have met my good buddies up here and that’s cool. They talk to my parents a ton.”
Even though Wrobleski played for the Honkers last year, and even though he had two pitchers whom he was very comfortable with, there was still an adjustment period this summer. The bond and connection between pitcher and catcher is hard to replicate. It’s also hard to develop that chemistry when you’ve had little-to-no time together.
The time off, combined with a whole new environment has contributed to the Honkers’ slow start. The pitching staff has a team ERA of 6.75, and Honkers pitchers have struggled with control, walking 77 hitters in just 12 games.
Wrobleski’s job is to guide his pitchers through the struggles. He sees the potential. He also sees the frustration that the pitching staff is enduring when the results don’t match the preparation.
“I don’t know these guys and they don’t know me,” Wrobleski said. “So we’re figuring it out. It’s a trust thing. We have to trust each other even though we don’t know each other all that well. You see flashes where we put it all together and you’re like, ‘Wow man, we look really good.’ But at the same time, there is an adjustment period for everybody.
"Hitters are dealing with it too. There are guys up at the plate saying, ‘How am I missing this? How is this happening?’ Same thing for pitchers where they’re like, ‘I start off so good and then it all falls apart.’ You have to take everything with a grain of salt right now. It’s kind of hard when you don’t see live pitching for four months and then being forced to step into the box and you’re trying to just get back to normal. Same thing with our pitchers. They’re not comfortable yet. As we start getting comfortable, we’re going to look pretty good. The biggest thing is them trusting themselves as much as they trust me.”
'GOD HAS A PLAN'
The Honkers (4-8) currently sit fourth in the five-team Minnesota-Iowa pod. Even Wrobleski has had his fair share of troubles at the plate. He can absolutely be a guy who hits for a high average, but his batting average is just a few points above the Mendoza Line (.213). Wrobleski has smashed one homer and driven in nine runs, but he’s still getting back into the swing of things and finding his timing at the plate.
But he's not worried.
And that’s where his faith ties right back into his story. He’s grounded and humble whether he smacks four homers or if he’s struggling.
“Even when things aren’t going right, I know I’m playing for something bigger,” Wrobleski said. “Even if I go 0-for-4, I go back to, ‘God has a plan for me, so good or bad, I’m going to trust the process.’ You need to have strong faith in yourself but also in God’s path for your life. It’s a good way of not putting so much pressure on yourself because baseball is a tough game. It’s kind of the life you choose as a believer and when tough stuff happens, it’s not something you have to freak out about because you’re playing with a bigger plan in mind.”
Wrobleski is an All-Star catcher who is a bulldog behind the plate. He’ll put his body on the line for his pitchers. He’s always there to give them a word of encouragement during trying times. He’s got all the talent to be a professional ballplayer one day.
He’s not worried about the path that baseball takes him on. No matter if that’s the Big Leagues or the Northwoods League, Wrobleski will continue to be the same person on and off the field.
Wrobleski is trusting the process. He’s trusting the captain of his life. Wrobleski doesn’t feel like he has anything to worry about as long as God is in control.