Pro Dream Comes True for ex-La Salle Pitcher
Bubba Derby was sitting in his sister’s house last month, surrounded by a throng of family and friends. All eyes were on the television screen as the Major League Baseball Draft entered its second day. A 2012 graduate of La Salle High School, Derby had just completed his junior season at San Diego State, where he helped lead the Aztecs to a third consecutive Mountain West Conference title three weeks earlier.
Although the pitching prospect had been meeting with MLB teams since last fall, nothing really prepared Derby for the moment his phone began to ring.
“I got a call right before the sixth round from my agent saying ‘Hey, the A’s want to take you in the sixth round. You ready to go? Let’s get the ball rolling.’ We just sat there and waited. When their pick came up in the sixth round, dreams came true right then and there.”
When the Oakland Athletics made Derby the No. 188 overall pick in the draft, the newly minted professional baseball player immediately stood up and walked across the room.
“The first thing that went into my head was, ‘I need to go hug my family, especially my dad and my mom,’” said Derby. “They’ve sacrificed everything they have to put me through good schooling and to make sure that I had every possible opportunity to accomplish my dreams and my goals. So that’s the first thing I did. I just got up and I went to give them a big hug.”
Soon, Derby’s phone began buzzing with congratulatory text messages, and friends started to arrive at the front door with A’s gear. Across town, Derby’s former coach at La Salle, Harry Agajanian, was following the draft on his office computer.
“I felt like it was one of my own kids,” said Agajanian. “When you get to coach somebody for four years [during] probably one of the most important times of their lives, they become like one of your own.”
Derby was a two-time Division 4 All-CIF selection under Agajanian and went 9–1 with a 0.60 ERA as a senior. The right-hander struck out 117 batters in 81 innings that season, earning the Del Rey League MVP.
“Going to La Salle, I loved every minute I was there,” said Derby, who participated in student government and was a school ambassador in addition to his success on the baseball diamond. “I got a good education and they taught me a lot of things — how to be a man, how to be responsible for everything you do, your own actions, your own work. Just being able to have that on my record is awesome in itself.”
Derby continued his ascent at San Diego State. As a junior this past spring, he fanned 131 batters in 103 innings. Some of his best work came in the postseason. He closed out the University of New Mexico in the championship game of the MWC Tournament and then struck out nine in a complete-game victory over UC Santa Barbara in the Lake Elsinore NCAA Regional, outdueling Texas Rangers first-round pick Dillon Tate in the process. He finished with an 8–4 record and a 3.32 ERA.
When Agajanian saw Derby’s name get called, the coach immediately headed over to the party to congratulate his former player in person.
“It was a no-brainer,” said Agajanian, who recently stepped down after a 10-year run leading the Lancers. “I was very proud and wanted to show him my support, show the family my support. The family, of course, was elated and relieved. They went through a pretty intense couple of days, and so it was just good to see the relief in their faces and enjoy that moment with the family and friends. … I felt proud to be a part of his life.”
The whirlwind had just begun for Derby. Soon after the A’s made their pick on June 9, the 21-year-old was on his way to Phoenix to begin his professional career with Oakland’s rookie-league team stationed there. Derby spent two weeks in the Valley of the Sun, undergoing standard medical examinations, working out and even receiving the opportunity to start two games on the mound. His first professional appearance came against the Seattle Mariners’ rookie-league team, and he pitched one inning and recorded a strikeout.
“It was a little surreal,” he said. “It didn’t really hit until after I was done. You just try to live in the moment and you just try to remember. Hopefully, soon I can have another memory of my first major-league strikeout or first major-league appearance. Time will tell. It could be years from now. It could be soon. You never know. It’s just how pro baseball works. Whatever it is, I hope at some point I can get there.”
As it turned out, only four days passed before Derby inched closer to his ultimate goal of making it to the major leagues. After just his second rookie-league start, a team official pulled Derby aside and told him to pack his bags.
He had been promoted to Short-Season A ball, the next rung on the minor-league ladder.
“That was just pure excitement,” said Derby.
The following morning, Derby boarded a cross-country flight to Vermont, where he joined another Oakland affiliate called the Lake Monsters.
“I couldn’t be happier with the organization I got picked by because they work with their players. They give every player the opportunity to move up,” said Derby, who went from playing home games before sparse crowds at the spring training facility in Phoenix to consistent sellouts at the 4,415-seat Centennial Field in Burlington, Vt.
Derby started his first game for the Lake Monsters on July 4, providing fireworks by striking out five hitters in fewer than three innings without allowing a run.
If all goes well, Derby will remain in Vermont for the rest of the summer. The A’s will then decide his next minor-league destination when the season ends, but the pitcher is ready for anything. After all, he was taking college classes just two months ago.
“As a player, you just kind of have to be very versatile,” said Derby. “You have to be able to adjust to new elements and new people, new faces. For the past three years, I was used to seeing the same faces and being around the same guys, same coaches. Here, you make new friends but then you [can] get a call tonight saying that they’re gone. They’re getting moved up or moved down and there goes your buddy. … You have to be easy to get along with because at any point you could be going to a new team.”
Derby does not know what his future holds. All he can control is his work ethic, one that Agajanian remembers fondly from their time together at La Salle.
“Practice-wise, he was always the first one there and the last one out,” the coach said. “He was fun to be around, just an all-around great athlete, great student. He never had to worry about his grades. Knowing that we had Bubba there was great security for me as a head coach.”
Although Agajanian does not guide the Lancers anymore, he remains supportive of the team and understands that Derby’s trajectory has the potential to enhance the future of La Salle athletics.
“His story is a great enlightenment to the kids that are coming in, and the more that we can tell Bubba’s story to the program, I think the more the baseball program is going to benefit out of this.”
Originally published for the Pasadena Outlook Newspaper on July 9, 2015.
Nick Ostiller can be contacted on Twitter
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