Daniel Essian was in Prague this week on a vacation from his role as a financial adviser for Transamerica in Columbus, Ohio. There were numerous dining options, including La Degustation with its two stars from Michelin.
That wasn't the case when Essian was attending Alderson-Broaddus University in Philippi (FILL-uh-pea), a town of 3,380 in the hills of West Virginia.
"Your former battery mate, Randy Dobnak, told us this week that the go-to eating place in Philippi is a Sheetz, a large convenience store," a reporter asked. "Accurate?"
This was among a series of questions offered by e-mail and Essian's answer was, "Randy tells the truth."
A couple of days earlier, Dobnak mentioned Philippi's Sheetz and was greeted by silence from his Minnesota audience. "That's right; you don't have Sheetz around here," he said. "They are like a Casey's."
Which begs another question: How do you find a pitcher who will be starting a critical Game 2 for the Twins vs. the Yankees on Saturday in the Bronx pitching in a spartan ballpark in the middle of nowhere?
One thing that helps is to have a catcher who is the son of Jim Essian, a big-league catcher for all or parts of 12 seasons.
Daniel Essian was the junior catcher for the Division II Alderson-Broaddus Battlers when Dobnak arrived as a freshman in fall 2013.
"Dobnak was our No. 1 recruit and with the expectation of being in our starting rotation right away," Essian wrote. "The sinker was Dobnak's strongest pitch but not by much. He had a dominant curveball and splitter."
Matt Yurish was the pitching coach in Dobnak's first college season and then the head coach for the last three.
"Randy had some talent, and then he went to work," Yurish said. "He was in the weight room the whole offseason. He changed his frame, got a lot stronger.
"There were scouts watching him and a number telling us that Randy was going to get drafted. When that didn't happen and then he didn't get signed, he just had to work a little harder to get his chance.
"And he was going to do that, because he loves baseball."
Rick Dobnak, Randy's father, is a union electrician in the Pittsburgh area. It should be added that he mentions the "union" part in every reference, and is proud to add that the older Dobnak son, R.J., is also now a union electrician.
"When I came home from a job and Randy was a little kid, he would be waiting on the steps with his glove and a ball, saying, 'Catch, catch,' " Rick said. "Every day. "Catch.' "
Rick became Randy's coach through youth leagues. The unusual throwing motion that has been mostly deceptive in nine games against major league hitters since late August was evident from the time he became strong enough to fling a baseball.
To demonstrate this, Rick texted a photo of Randy in his windup as a husky 10-year-old.
Effective though that delivery was in the G-MAC (Great Midwest Athletic Conference), it didn't get him an immediate shot in affiliated pro baseball. And that's where Daniel Essian enters the picture.
"I told my dad about Dobnak," Essian wrote. "I knew Dobnak was going to play in the major leagues — once he added command to his pitch movement."
Jim Essian was involved with the United Shore Pro League, a four-team independent league that plays all games at a ballpark in Utica, Mich., near Detroit. Basically, it's a 25-and-under league for players who were undrafted and/or released quickly in the minor leagues.
Dobnak arrived in June and was dominant for Essian's Utica Unicorns. He was signed by the Twins in August 2017, by Billy Milos, a Twins scout who scours the independent leagues.
Dobnak pitched five games for the rookies in Elizabethton, Tenn., one for Class A Cedar Rapids, and then was an effective starter for a full season at Cedar Rapids in 2018.
The pitch movement that had impressed both Essians and Milos intrigued the Twins' pitching gurus. Dobnak's splitter went away and the four-seam fastball was de-emphasized.
Dobnak made his first start of 2019 on April 9 for Class A Fort Myers vs. Dunedin. Five strong innings.
"I told my fiancé — now wife — that I'd probably spend the whole year in Fort Myers," Dobnak said. "Maybe if I pitched well, I could see a couple of games in [Class AA] Pensacola in August."
For sure, there was no need for Aerial Munson, a former Alderson-Broaddus volleyball player, to worry about a conflict with the long-set Sept. 28 wedding ceremony with Dobnak, her betrothed.
And then Dobnak made it to Pensacola in early May, to Class AAA Rochester in late May (with a six-week return to Pensacola), and then five starts for Rochester — mostly excellent — beginning on July 23.
Two months later, he needed the Twins' permission to spend the last weekend of the regular season marrying Miss Munson, after making a Sept. 25 start (six innings, one unearned run) at Detroit, a start that helped the Twins win the AL Central title.
Parker Hageman, the co-founder and baseball analyst for Twins Daily, did me the favor of a breakdown of what has made Dobnak effective so far. A couple of Hageman's major points:
Dobnak's sinker has 29% more vertical sink than the big-league average. His three-quarter release gives his one-seam sinker an almost horizontal spin rate; meaning, hitters see a sidearm-type spin from an overhand delivery.
Plus, his delivery, although odd-looking for how long he stays on his back leg and then the quick finish, gives him a very consistent release point that greatly aids command (as opposed to Kohl Stewart, with a very inconsistent release point).
And there's this, from Ryan LaMarre, the outfielder who spent the final three weeks of the regular season back with the Twins.
"I had never seen him," LaMarre said. "After each pitch, I usually take a three-step walk in center field, then return to my position. First time I'm out there, I take the three steps, look up and he's delivering the pitch.
"Man, he works fast."
Hey, when you spend four years dining at a Sheetz convenience store, you learn to be speedy.
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