By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa.— Altoona Curve pitcher J.T. Brubaker grew up in Ohio, went to high school and college in Ohio, but didn’t root for the Cleveland Indians or Cincinnati Reds.
“The Red Sox,” Brubaker replied quickly when asked his favorite team.
“I played shortstop when I was a kid and was a big fan of Nomar Garciaparra,” Brubaker said recently at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
He had other Red Sox favorites, namely Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz and Curt Schilling — “all Hall of Famers,” Brubaker said.
Brubaker attended Tecumseh High School in New Carlisle, Ohio, where he was a two-year varsity player. He also played basketball until his sophomore year before giving all his attention to baseball.
“Then I went to Akron University,” Brubaker said. “I loved it.”
Rightly so because the Zips made it to the MAC championship game his sophomore year and the MAC tournament semifinals his junior season.
“It was pretty awesome to see the program turn around after a long history of losing,” Brubaker said. “It was cool to soak it in and be part of it.
“Unfortunately, there’s no longer a (baseball) program there. They dropped it my junior year.”
It didn’t hurt Brubaker, though, who was selected by the Pirates in the sixth round of the 2015 MLB draft
“It worked out for me, but it sucked for the other guys,” Brubaker said of the end of Akron’s baseball program.
He said the Pirates and a couple other big-league teams began following him and the Bucs eventually picked him on the second day of the draft.
Besides his college pitching coach, Matt Ford, now a minor-league coach with the Pirates, Brubaker also credits his dad with helping his career.
“My dad was a pitcher in the Yankee organization for a couple years,” Brubaker said, “and he was a huge help coming up. He helped me with everything – pitching, defense and hitting. All I had to do was ask and helped me tremendously.”
After signing with the Pirates, Brubaker went to West Virginia (short-season A) where he compiled a 6-4 record and 2.82 ERA in 15 starts. He split the 2016 season with low-A West Virginia and high-A Bradenton, winning six of 17 decisions in 26 starts.
“He came to us around June,” said Curve manager Michael Ryan, who managed Bradenton last season. “He had a couple great games in the playoffs, and he’s carried that momentum into this season.”
The Marauders won the Florida State League championship and Brubaker enjoyed being part of it.
“I got two starts (in the playoffs),” Brubaker said. “I pitched Game 2 of the semis and then Game 4 of the championship series.
“It was awesome, definitely the highlight of my baseball career so far.”
Only 23 years old and just in his second full season of pro ball, Brubaker is happy to be in Altoona, particularly since Ryan and several Bradenton teammates are with the Curve as well.
“Everybody is excited to be here,” he said. “It’s been great for me. The Eastern League is about what I thought. There are decent hitting teams with guys who are on their way up.
“I believe the Pirates have trust in me as a starter at this level and I believe myself that I can compete.”
Ryan thinks Brubaker has what it takes to reach the major leagues.
“He’s learning how to throw his secondary pitches early in the count,” Ryan noted. “He’s learning when to get it over for a strike and when to get it for a chase. And, he’s doing a better job with guys on base.
“He’s still very young,” Ryan continued, “and is going to get stronger which means he has the potential for more velocity. Honestly, he could develop into a really good pitcher.”