Dubin, Allegany's Astro, living out unlikely big league dream (2024)

TORONTO — Shawn Dubin finds himself reflecting on just how far he’s come “basically every single trip.”

Dubin’s baseball career has taken him to some of America’s biggest cities and on the mound at its biggest ballparks over the last 13 months. For a 28-year-old from Allegany, New York, who made his MLB debut for the Houston Astros in June 2023, it’s still a lot to take in.

“You just walk around, like downtown,” Dubin said during a pregame chat in the visitors’ dugout Wednesday afternoon in Rogers Centre, “especially in cities like New York, Chicago (and) here in Toronto. It’s the big stage, it just makes it that much more special.”

This week’s trip to Toronto came off perhaps Dubin’s strongest outing as a Major Leaguer: he threw 3 ⅓ hitless innings to start a game at Citi Field against the Mets on Sunday. It was his 15th MLB appearance of the season after three last year. But he still gets goosebumps from time to time. That was especially so on May 8, when he took the field in the sixth inning at Yankee Stadium.

“The top one is Yankee Stadium,” said Dubin, who’s set to make another start Friday in Minnesota against the Twins. “I grew up a Yankee fan. That was a very special moment for me. It didn’t go the way I wanted it to but at the end of the day, a little bit afterwards I just took a step back, looked in the mirror and was like, I got to achieve one of my biggest goals. So, pretty cool.”

ABOUT A decade ago, Dubin could never have envisioned himself on that mound in the Bronx. After all, he hardly pitched in high school, throwing fewer than 10 innings as a senior. His focus was primarily on soccer and, on the baseball diamond, at shortstop.

Dubin’s story is practically a local legend now, considering his unlikely path to the Majors.

“Some of them know. Not to the extent to which most people back home know,” Dubin said of his Houston teammates. “It truly was a journey: five different colleges in five years. It was a grind but I feel like that just makes all of this even more special and makes it all worth it.”

Indeed, Dubin attended five different colleges, starting at Jamestown Community College’s main campus (where he played shortstop in the fall), then JCC-Olean in the spring, then a yearlong break from school, and baseball, where he worked “for about six months” as a contractor for Lowe’s. It wasn’t until 2015, when he tried out for the Erie Community College coaching staff at the behest of friend Evan Ryan, that pitching became his focus.

“That’s kind of where everything got kick-started,” Dubin said of ECC. “The head coach at ECC, Joe Bauth, and (high school coach) Mike Matz from Portville, those were the two guys who were adamant on me pursuing it. I love soccer. I liked playing shortstop. I didn’t really think much about pitching. I just finally, didn’t really have much other choice, took their word for it and everything just kind of took off from there.”

FROM ECC, he quickly caught the attention of the University at Buffalo, where he transferred and played two years (2016-17), only for the Bulls to drop their Division I program. So he transitioned to Georgetown College (Ky.), an NAIA school, but did enough to earn a draft selection in the 13th round in 2018.

In retrospect, UB dissolving its program was a make-or-break moment for Dubin. It could have spelled the end of his baseball career; instead, it was a turning point.

“It was a double-edged sword,” Dubin said. “It was cool the first year or two. But once I got the news, it kind of leaves yourself questioning everything. My grades kind of plummeted after that, so I had to drop to NAIA. I mean, it was kind of like a blessing in disguise. I got linked up with (Georgetown coaches) Micah Baumfeld and Randy Guite down there. They kind of gave me all the support and everything I needed to get to this point.”

“It was just kind of like a little reality check going from D-I to NAIA. It just made you really stop and think what’s important, what you want to do with your life”

Dubin played Class A ball in 2018 and ‘19, but not at all in 2020 due to the canceled minor league season (though he traveled with the Astros in the postseason with the team’s taxi squad). In 2021, ‘22 and ‘23, he spent most of his seasons in Triple-A, finally getting his shot at the big leagues last June at age 27.

On Wednesday, a group of “about 18” friends and family made the three-hour drive from the Allegany area across the border to Toronto, sitting behind the Astros’ dugout.

“It’s really special to see everyone coming out to support,” he said.

It was at least the third time he’s had a big cheering section, after his MLB debut last year — when they flew out on short notice over Father’s Day weekend — in Houston and a series in Washington, D.C. this April.

“He has worked so hard and it’s just so rewarding to see him climb to this level,” his mother, Kim, said. “It’s just surreal for all of us. We’re enjoying every minute of it and we’re all so proud of him.”

Older brother Josh noted, “He faced a lot of adversity. UB shut their team down. It was just a new journey. He never gave up. We supported him, he kept his confidence and it’s amazing to see he got this far. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s amazing to see. I’m really proud of him.”

Dubin spent most of his career as a starter (starting 58 of 100 minor league games before this season), but the Astros primarily use him out of the bullpen. He considers his role “kind of like a utility pitcher,” able to make long relief appearances or even a few spot starts. He’s tried to soak up as much as he can from Houston’s veteran arms.

“Definitely the big dogs in the bullpen, like (Ryan) Pressly, (Josh) Hader, (Bryan) Abreu, (Rafael) Montero, all those guys,” he said of pitchers he’s tried to learn from. “Just trying to pick little things that they do and just see if it works for you … with the daily throwing program, you might try to implement something new that they do and just see if it works for you. Just constantly trying to bounce stuff back and forth with each other.”

Dubin called the bullpen a “little different” mindset.

“Out of the bullpen you’ve just got to be locked from the first pitch,” he said.

“As a starter, you’re used to going like 85, 100 pitches. You can kind of gradually build up in a sense, still keep the intensity level, but coming out of the bullpen when you’ve got 20 pitches to work with, you’ve got to make sure every single one counts. Just being able to flip that switch the second you step on the field, that’s been the biggest obstacle but a learning lesson at the same time.”

He’s faced some of the stars of the game. Texas’ Corey Seager, whom he faced twice in ‘23, was probably the toughest, he said. He’s had strong outings and “a couple sketchy ones.” But the longer he stays with the big league club (after a stint from mid-April to mid-May, he went back to Triple A before being recalled June 1), the more comfortable he feels.

“Each day is a new day,” he said. “No matter how good it was, no matter how bad it was. You can’t sit and reflect on that. You play 162 games. It’s something new every single day and just keeping the focus up, keeping the intensity level. Just trying to become the best version of yourself that you can.”

Dubin’s earned a longer MLB stay after just three appearances in ‘23. His start against the Mets brought his ERA down to 4.91 through 25 ⅔ MLB innings this year. He’s determined to stay up as long as he can.

“It was a little taste of it, you know what I mean?” Dubin said of his debut last year. “I feel like obviously anyone would have wanted to stay up as long as they could, but at the same time it was an external motivator. Especially this offseason, I really made sure I got myself (ready). Once you get a taste of it, it’s like you want this life as long as you can.”

Dubin, Allegany's Astro, living  out unlikely big league dream (2024)
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