Tecumseh grad Brubaker on big-league debut: ‘It means a lot'

Pirates reliever strikes out four Cardinals in two innings

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

J.T. Brubaker became the 19,717th person to appear in a Major League Baseball game when he took the mound for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the sixth inning Sunday in St. Louis.

The moment represented the end of one journey for the 2012 Tecumseh High School graduate. Brubaker had been working his way to the big leagues since the Pirates drafted him in the sixth round out of the University of Akron in 2015. The moment also started him on a new path at the highest level of baseball.

“It means a lot,” Brubaker said Monday. “All the hard work, it really started when I was younger just wanting to go to the baseball field, always wanting to be on the baseball field. It’s finally paid off.”

Brubaker, 26, allowed three hits in two scoreless innings. He struck out four batters — Kolten Wong, Tommy Edman, Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler — in a 5-1 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals.

“I felt really good,” Brubaker said. “I felt like I went out there and threw my game and didn’t try to do too much.”

The TV broadcasters raved about Brubaker’s changeup and slider.

“That is some nasty stuff!” a broadcaster said after his fourth strikeout.

By taking the mound, Brubaker became the first Clark County native to make his big-league debut since outfielder Adam Eaton in 2012. Eaton is now in his ninth season overall and fourth season with the Washington Nationals. He hit a home run in his first at-bat of the season Thursday.

Brubaker got his start in the game when he was 5 or 6 with a team in Donnelsville sponsored by the Berner Auction Company. Over the years, he played for teams such as the Miami Valley Wolverines, the Tecumseh Rookies, the Brookville Blue Sox, the Mid-Ohio Thunder and the Springfield Bulldogs. He is the second Tecumseh graduate to reach the big leagues.

Catcher Larry Owen, a 1973 Tecumseh graduate, debuted with the Atlanta Braves in 1981 and appeared in 171 games in six seasons from 1981-88 with the Braves and Kansas City Royals.

Roger Culbertson, who coached Brubaker at Tecumseh, said Brubaker has come back over the years to talk to teams at the high school. He’s humble and “doesn’t toot his own horn,” Culbertson said, preferring to talk to students about the importance of staying focused.

“He’s just a good kid,” Culbertson said, “and I’m rooting for him, for sure. I’m happy for him.”

J.T’s dad, Frank Brubaker, pitched three seasons in the New York Yankees farm system. Frank, a 1988 Tecumseh graduate, was a 6-foot-4 right-handed pitcher. J.T. is 6-3, and that size and the pitching genes he inherited from his father is one reason Culbertson thought J.T. had a chance to reach the big leagues.

“I’m happy for his family,” Culbertson said. “His dad and mom (Teresa) have supported him all along. It’s been eight years since high school. It’s been a long time. They’re good people.”

Brubaker’s debut coincided with the first career victory for new Pirates manager Derek Shelton. The Pirates avoided a three-game sweep by winning Sunday.

“It was unbelievable to be a part of that,” Brubaker told Pittsburgh reporters Sunday. “I was able to take a step back out of the moment I was in and see what it meant to him. He was one of the first people to come over and congratulate me.”

Brubaker shared the joy of the moment with his wife Darci and many family members and friends, even if none of them could be there because of the coronavirus pandemic. He thanked his parents, Frank and Teresa, in particular for helping him get to the top level of baseball.

“They’ve always been supporting me, coming to watch me play,” he said. “They’ve done a lot for me.”

Darci stayed in Springfield while Brubaker trained with the Pirates in Summer Camp and remains there. J.T. said they didn’t want to risk anything because of the COVID-19 crisis. Darci shared a photo on Instagram of her kissing the image of J.T. on the TV screen.

“Baby, you did it,” she wrote. “I am so beyond proud of you! Your Major League debut ... my heart could burst!”

Brubaker reached the big leagues a season after suffering a forearm strain that limited him to six appearances. He arrived at spring training in February healthy and reach to pitch and spent most of the spring at the Pirates’ spring-training facility in Bradenton, Fla., after the coronavirus pandemic shut down baseball.

Brubaker joined the Pirates’ 60-man player pool when Summer Camp began in early July and was added to the 30-man roster when the season began last week. He said Shelton told him he had made the team on July 21, one day before the last exhibition game against the Cleveland Indians. Until that point, he had been feeling good about his chances but didn’t want to assume anything.

After Brubaker made the team, his mom Teresa wrote on Facebook, “Thank you Adam and Bob. (JTs agents) Black and yellow are my favorite colors. Today is an exciting day for the Brubakers and our local community. Good luck to J.T. Hopefully you make your debut tonight, and if not there’s always tomorrow. No matter when it happens, we all will be watching. So proud of you and how hard you have worked for this moment. Becoming a professional baseball player is not for the weak. It takes unbelievable dedication, not only for you as the player but for the family and friends that support them. God has blessed you with a special talent. Show them all why you belong there.”

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