Dreams of majors over, Chris Lubanski stays in game as high school coach

Chris Lubanski, out of Kennedy-Kenrick High, was chosen fifth in the first round of the 2003 amateur draft by the Kansas City Royals. In 2011, after eight years of playing in the minor leagues, he hung up his spikes.
Chris Lubanski, out of Kennedy-Kenrick High, was chosen fifth in the first round of the 2003 amateur draft by the Kansas City Royals. In 2011, after eight years of playing in the minor leagues, he hung up his spikes.
Posted: April 15, 2013

Chris Lubanski's burning desire to fulfill a childhood dream of playing major-league baseball eventually gave way to a bigger want of a successful adulthood.

For the former Kennedy-Kenrick High star, continuing to toil in the minors would have meant delaying aspirations that included a college education, marriage, and the pursuit of a career outside of or involving baseball.

"There comes a time when you have to do some soul-searching and decide what you want to do with your life," said Lubanski, 28.

As a senior at Kennedy-Kenrick, Lubanski was chosen fifth in the first round of the 2003 amateur draft by the Kansas City Royals. In 2011, after eight years of playing in the minors, Lubanski hung up his spikes.

"There's always the what-if factor," the ex-outfielder said. "What if I had done this, what if I had done that. But I worked hard the entire time and performed well.

"I was an all-star at every level of the minor leagues. I don't think there's much more I could have done to make it to the major-league level."

Far from abandoning his lifelong passion, Lubanski, who began taking classes at Villanova and was married last summer, is the rookie coach at Springside Chestnut Hill.

"I was doing some private lessons here and there when the opening came up," he said. "Coaching wasn't something I had really given much thought about before that. But I figured I had something to offer and applied for the job.

"It's definitely a change of scenery after playing professional baseball for so long. The experience has been great, but there have been some learning curves."

The Blue Devils opened their Inter-Ac League campaign last Tuesday at two-time defending champion Malvern Prep. Lubanski was nowhere to be found.

Three days earlier, in a nonleague game vs. Archbishop Carroll, he was ejected by the plate umpire for arguing balls and strikes. Per Inter-Ac rules, an ejection carries an automatic one-game suspension.

"I'm a pretty calm and laid-back type of guy," Lubanski said, "but I do have to stand up for my players when I think they're working their butts off and not getting a fair shake."

Tuesday, after leading Malvern Prep by 6-0, Springside Chestnut Hill yielded four runs in the fifth inning and five in the sixth and bowed, 9-7.

Where was Lubanski during those hours? At his Devon home, prepping for one of his college classes, and receiving occasional texts - positive ones, early in the game - from his assistants.

"It killed me not to be there," Lubanski said. "It was almost a sickening feeling. It's a lesson learned for me as a first-year coach. I can't let that happen again. I need to do a better job when it comes to shutting my trap."

In 835 minor-league appearances, the lefthanded hitter and speedy baserunner batted .278 with 498 runs, 470 RBIs, 178 doubles, 109 homers, 72 stolen bases, and 50 triples. His on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) was a respectable .815.

The Schwenksville native twice flirted with being promoted to the majors. In 2009, after a solid start with the Omaha Royals, Kansas City's triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League, he suffered a torn hamstring and sat out four months.

"I know, if I had stayed healthy and continued the way I was hitting, I would have made my major-league debut that year," said Lubanski, who had to undergo surgery at the Rothman Institute.

In 2010, after Lubanski was released by the Royals and signed with the Toronto Blue Jays, a strong triple-A showing with the Las Vegas 51s was cut short by a torn oblique. In 100 games that year, he hit .293 with 57 RBIs and 17 homers.

The next season, after signing a minor-league contract with the Florida Marlins, he was released late in spring training.

"I wasn't prepared for that," Lubanski said. "I was at a complete loss. You never think it's going to happen."

A 57-game stint with the Chico Outlaws, of the independent North American League, and 19 appearances with the double-A Reading Phillies marked the end of his playing days.

Lubanski, who met his wife, Keri, while rehabbing from his 2009 hamstring injury, has guided the Blue Devils to a 7-3 start.

"You want to win," he said. "That's why you play the game. But I'm all about my players having quality at-bats and quality pitching performances. If that happens, we're going to be where we need to be at the end of the year."

Lubanski, whose private-lesson pupils have included La Salle outfielder-pitcher Jimmy Herron and Malvern Prep infielder Mark Gentilotti, is also an associate scout for the Phillies organization.

"Being a high school coach helps with that," he said. "If an opposing player catches my eye, I'll pass along my observations to a regional scout. You never know when or where you might find a pro prospect."


Contact Rick O'Brien at robrien@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @ozoneinq. Read his blog, "The O'Zone," at www.philly.com/ozone .

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