FORT MYERS, FLA. – Life is a blast for Randy Dobnak right now.

He and his wife, Aerial, became parents for the first time in December with the birth of a daughter, River. He gets a 50% raise this year to $2.25 million, even if he remains in St. Paul again, making him one of the highest-paid minor leaguers in baseball. He's one of the most popular Saints ever, he's mostly healthy, and he's got a strong case as the most famous alumnus in Alderson Broaddus University history — permanently.

"Yeah, the college is no longer there," Dobnak said of his Phillippi, W.Va., alma mater, which declared bankruptcy and closed last August. "It's sad. I guess it's a tough go these days for private Christian schools in the middle of West Virginia."

Only one thing is missing Dobnak's life right now. Well, two things, but they're related: His nasty bottom-drops-out sinker that made him a surprise star in 2019 — and a roster spot on "the varsity," as he calls the Twins.

"That sinker was kind of a unicorn pitch. It was like, hey, just throw it over the plate and they're probably going to ground out," Dobnak recalled of his debut season. "It's not always the case anymore, but I think I'm a better pitcher now than I was two or three years ago. My stuff is better and I'm able to locate better. So I'm all about trying to get back to where I was."

Not that where he is is so bad. Dobnak hasn't stood on a major league mound in 30 months, but he has embraced his surroundings at CHS Field.

"St. Paul is awesome. The players, the atmosphere, the fans there, it's a fun place to play," said Dobnak, who turned 29 in January. "I like being part of the community, and it's fun for my family. I like being part of the stuff they do there, showing kids, hey, we're just normal people."

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Well, as normal as you can be with a $9.25 million contract that still has at least $6.25 million to come, this year and next. Dobnak paid off his parents' mortgage soon after signing it in 2021, and River's college fund is likely in good shape, too. The Dobnaks are donors (and fundraisers) for St. Jude's Children's Hospital, too.

Dobnak knows some fans judge him on the basis of that contract, but he makes no apologies.

"I earned it. At the time I signed it, I was healthy and pitching well, and I had a responsibility to take care of my family," Dobnak said. "My agent said, 'You don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. You might get hurt.' Sure enough, I had a freak injury in my finger, and now I'm trying to figure out almost how to pitch again."

The contract takes the pressure off him while he goes through that.

"It probably simplifies things for him. He can focus on his pitching, he can focus on his family, and he doesn't have to focus as much energy and stress, truthfully, on his finances in ways that a lot of guys in the minor leagues do," said Rocco Baldelli, who similarly signed a long-term contract during his playing days just as injuries sabotaged his career. "Hopefully it's made his life better. And hopefully it actually helps him get back out on the field."

He's trying, but it's been a long road. Nearly three years ago, he suffered a rupture of the tiny ligaments in his right middle finger called pulleys, which caused intense pain whenever he squeezed a baseball to throw that sinker. The rare injury healed, then recurred even worse in 2022, and his finger — and best pitch — has been permanently damaged.

Dobnak has remade himself as a slider/changeup pitcher, with a four-seamed fastball mixed in — he reached 92 mph in a backfields workout Friday, nearly equaling his 92.9-mph average from 2021 — and last year had streaks of effectiveness for the Saints, holding hitters to a .181 average in five July starts, for example. But he never got the call-up he's been waiting for.

"At the end of the year in St. Paul, he was doing some pretty good things on the mound. I don't think Randy Dobnak has pitched his last game in the big leagues," said Saints manager Toby Gardenhire. "Randy's great. I've had him in A ball back in Cedar Rapids in 2018. Ever since then, he's the same guy no matter what's going on with his life. He comes to the ballpark happy and full of life, just a great teammate."

Even after a season in which he posted a 5.13 ERA, having given up 148 hits in 126⅓ innings — but only 12 home runs.

"It was a wild year. I had some really good stitches, and then I had a few where I just got singled to death. I had one game in Columbus where I gave up five singles in the first inning but only one left the infield," Dobnak said with a shrug. "I'm like, what can I do? But I had a game in 2020 against the Tigers where gave up 12 hits, six runs, then faced them five days later and went like five innings scoreless. That's just baseball."