Earned The ‘A’

By JOE McFARLAND

You’ll have to excuse Todd Hubka if that competitive fire inside of him this spring is burning just a little brighter than usual.

After the Canadian College Baseball Conference (CCBC) had to shut down its 2020 season in the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, then another wave did the same to the 2021 campaign, the long-time Prairie Baseball Academy (PBA) coach was finally able to get back in the dugout for the circuit’s 2022 opening weekend.

For Hubka, it was the first time in his life where he had to take a break from the game he loved.

“It’s been a crazy two years,” he told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast.

“It’s been a long two years and a frustrating two years, but hopefully it’s behind us now.”

Just like in the past, Hubka enters the year with a lot of enthusiasm for the season, despite not having a lot of players who have college baseball experience.

“We’re really young but I also think we’re really athletic,” he said.

“We’re strong on the mound and I think this is one of the best defensive infields we’ve ever had.”

It’s a compliment not to be taken likely, as Hubka is entering his 12th season as head coach after joining PBA as an assistant in 1996.

He has seen a lot over the course of his career, one that he’s grateful to be living every day.

A DECORATED ATHLETE

The product of Carmangay, Hubka was a multi-sport athlete who did a little bit of everything on the baseball diamond.

He really started turning heads while he was in high school in Claresholm. He was lethal on the mound and at the plate, as witnessed in a game in May 1988, where he threw a no-hitter and hit a home run in the same game.

While he admits he doesn’t exactly remember that outing, Hubka thinks he was a better hitter than pitcher.

In his early-teens, he was also one of the younger players to join the American Legion’s Fort Macleod Royals under head coach Rocke Musgraves, who became his mentor.

They would join forces again in 1995 to win the Saskatchewan Major Baseball League (later the Western Canadian Baseball League) championship with the Oyen Pronghorns, before Hubka went to PBA and Musgraves headed south to join a number of programs including Northwest Nazarene University.

COACH KUBI

Another connection to Oyen, Doug Jones, approached Hubka in 1996 to join the newly-formed Prairie Baseball Academy as a coach.

He says he met with coach Blair Kubicek and felt it would be a great fit.

“He’s very passionate and one of the most frank guys I’ve ever met in my life,” Hubka said.

“If he was disappointed in you, he’d tell you right away. But 20 minutes later, it was water under the bridge and it was time to move on.”

It was a trait he took away from his predecessor, as he felt it delivered a big impact on players.

“Even to this day, the kids probably get a good crack out of it,” Hubka laughed.

“I can be a little upset and yelling at them, then five minutes later, I’m having a quiet conversation with them in the dugout – they’re probably thinking I’m playing mind games with them.”

That tenacity is also how he believes Kubicek was able to build the PBA program over the years.

“Without him, I truly believe we wouldn’t have Lloyd Nolan Park, I don’t think we’d have our indoor space, and PBA wouldn’t be where it is today without him and what he meant to the program,” Hubka said.

Kubicek, who is widely known as “Alberta’s Mr. Baseball,” is acclaimed for his role in growing the sport in this province, was inducted into the PBA Hall of Fame in 2020 and was previously recognized with a similar honour by the Okotoks Dawgs.

TAKING THE REIGNS

In his own right, Hubka has already carved out a strong legacy of his own when it comes to baseball in Alberta.

Along with taking the PBA reigns in September 2010, Hubka has coached at virtually every level including the WCBL’s Lethbridge Bulls.

One of his most gratifying coaching stops came when he started spending summers with his own kids’ teams.

“Those were some fun years coaching those young kids and watching them grow as kids and players and to see where those kids are today,” he smiled. “Those were some of the best years on a baseball field, on those little league fields, showing those young kids how to play the game the right way.”

Hubka has been able to take that mindset into coaching with Prairie Baseball Academy. Not only does he obsess over the details of each game, but he tries to keep in touch with players long after they have walked away from the program.

“I think it’s exciting to see the kids you coached in the early days and where they’re at now and how successful they are,” he said.

“Whether it’s starting their own business or working for large companies or just how great they are as dads is something that we’re always so excited to follow.”

Social media has opened another avenue for Hubka and his team to keep tabs on all of their alumni. Time has also allowed for him to see a second generation of come into PBA. At least three players have dads who were once Dawgs.

LIFE LESSONS

That alumni connection is a point of pride for Hubka, and one that his former players are grateful for.

Duncan Sourisseau is the owner of OHMY Apparel, and says Hubka and the PBA program changed his life in many ways.

“Coach Hub and I had a chat my freshman year when I was struggling – like really struggling – and he looked me dead in the eyes and told me I was afraid to succeed,” he recalled.

“Not afraid to fail, but afraid of what would happen if the work I put in actually paid off. He was absolutely right.”

Sourisseau often reflects on lessons like that, or how Hubka “loves to win and shows it in how he coaches, how he cuts the grass, edges the infield, rolls up the rim on his coffee, everything.”

He was also able to forge a relationship with the Dawgs after graduation, where he got to see first-hand how much Hubka cares for his players while he was working on their 20th anniversary plans.

“Some of the other coaches and I were going through pictures and found a bunch of old ones from the first few years of the program,” he said. “The pictures had names on the back, so we held up each picture and Hub knew every player, their nickname, and had something to say about what they had done for PBA or an endearing story about them.”

ALUMNI ACCOLADES

Sylvan Lake Gulls general manager Aqil Samuel is also a Prairie Baseball Academy product, and was in his second season when Hubka joined.

He says the biggest impression he got from the new coach was his love to compete.

“For example, I loved the technical aspects of the swing, so he taught me to simplify by focusing on competing at the plate,” Samuel said. “It’s me against the pitcher and I have to figure out a way to beat him.”

Former big-leaguer Dustin Molleken is also a PBA alum, and has nothing but good things to say about his former coach.

“Coach Hub was a big part of my career,” said Molleken, who has since come back to coach at PBA before becoming a coach for a new academy in Regina. “He’s an unbelievable coach and good person, and these kids are lucky to have him.”

Recent graduates like Scott Gillespie are also cognizant of the impact that Hubka has had on their baseball careers, but also the entire baseball community in Alberta.

“Coach Hubka knows how to bring out the best in every player he coaches day in and day out,” the University of Arkansas-Monticello alum and Edmonton Collegiate Hawks assistant coach said.

“He’s able to coach every player how to play the game the right way – a blue-collar type of way.”

The biggest lesson he says he learned in his time at PBA was that everything is earned and not given.

A REPUTATION EARNED

As he settles back into his familiar perch in the PBA dugout, Hubka finds himself grateful to still be doing what he loves.

Hearing what alumni say about him, it’s all he’s ever wanted is to be thought of as a coach who cared.

Not just about baseball, but life in general.

“I want to follow them after PBA and know how they’re doing,” he said. “I want them to know how passionate I am about this game and know that I pushed them because I loved them and wanted the best for them.”

He’s a firm believer that baseball teaches you more than just about the game, which is a reaffirmed lesson after decades in the game.

“I’ve lived the perfect life, I guess, when it comes to my work,” Hubka said. “I get to come to the yard every day, whether it’s fixing the field or working with the kids or talking to a scout or a coach in the U.S. – it’s crazy.”

He acknowledges there are only a handful of people like him across the country.

After spending the last two years waiting to get back on the field, Hubka won’t be taking any of it for granted.

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