Minnesota Made: Brian Raabe
Image courtesy of Seth StohsBrian Raabe dug into the batter’s box on a Sunday afternoon in September at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. And while the 1995 Twins were out of playoff contention the moment couldn’t have been more significant for Raabe.
The 5’9 New Ulm, Minnesota native was making his Major League debut for his home state team.
Raabe had been preparing for this moment his entire life. A scrappy and consistent hitter, the second baseman had been an All-American for the Minnesota Golden Gophers with talent that earned him a 41st round pick from the Minnesota Twins in the 1990 MLB draft. After consecutive years of batting north of the .300 mark in the minors, Raabe received the late season call-up that every boy dreams of.
Perhaps the most special essence of the moment? The catcher squatting behind Raabe was fellow Gophers standout and New Ulm native Terry Steinbach.
"How the heck does that happen?"
Raabe popped out and the Oakland Athletics went on to defeat the Twins 4-1. But for the small town Minnesota kid, a lifelong goal shaped by hard work, mentors, and a dream had come to fruition.
The Mecca of Minnesota Baseball
Like most small town kids, Brian Raabe grew up playing a variety of sports. And while he was talented at many, baseball stuck.
“Most kids could hit a ball off a tee when they were a few years old. My dad was able to flip it to me and I could hit it,” Brian recalled.
Brian wasn’t the only baseball player on the block in New Ulm. Despite being a town of roughly 10,000, the south-central Minnesota community has groomed some of the finest baseball players in the state’s history, many of whom were Raabe’s role models growing up. Players like Tim, Tom, and Terry Steinbach, Doug Palmer, and Jeff Schugel influenced Raabe’s love of the game from a young age.
“Those guys were older than me but young enough where I would get to know them and watch them play,” Raabe said. “They played at Johnson Park for years and years and I ended up getting to be bat boys for them a few times."
In a small community of baseball excellence with unique talent, the game wasn’t just a hobby for Raabe, it was a way of life.
“There weren’t many lakes in the area so if it was a nice night you’d go and watch a baseball game,” Raabe said. “Instead of playing on the hill I was one of those kids who watched the game, asked my dad questions, and was mesmerized by it.”
Raabe’s growing love of the game was rooted in the strong baseball culture that New Ulm had cultivated. Talented players like the Steinbach’s and legendary high school coach Jim Senske paved a mindset for Brian that ‘making it’ wasn’t a million dollar dream, it was a reality.
“I was able to say, ‘if they can do it, why can’t I?,’” Raabe said.
A Jack of all Trades
Now 53, Raabe serves as the baseball coach at Bethel University in Arden Hills, Minnesota. Despite putting up incredible minor league numbers, his career in the MLB was limited to three seasons and a total of 33 at bats between time in Minnesota, Seattle and Colorado.
Don’t let that fool you on how Raabe reflects on his career.
“I have no hard feelings at all, I’m a coach, I understand it,” Raabe said. “That’s life.”
Yet instead of bitterness and remorse Raabe is filled with emotions of thankfulness, joy, and gratitude. Through his nine years in professional baseball Raabe got to check a wealth of opportunities off the board that most players only dream of, a list that speaks for itself.
- Played with Paul Molitor when he got his 3,000th hit
- Was on the team when Kirby Puckett played his final baseball game
- Was Derek Jeter’s double play partner in the Arizona Fall League
- Played against (and almost homered over) Michael Jordan
- Was on the 1997 Mariners with Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and MVP Ken Griffey Jr.
- Played alongside 2020 Hall of Famers Larry Walker and Derek Jeter
After the 1999 season with the Yankees’ AAA affiliate Columbus Clippers, Raabe had a decision to make. The Bronx Bombers had offered Raabe a healthy contract to continue in the organization following the season. Brian had a more important contract on his mind back at home, one that was worth more than money; his daughter Brianna and son Zachary, both young kids.
“I had a son and daughter that were playing sports and were young and I wanted to be around them,” Raabe said. “I decided that I wanted to be a dad and if I had to do it 100 times again I’d do it the same way.”
Brian’s decision to leave professional baseball wasn’t easy, but it was far from a goodbye to the sport that had gifted him some of his greatest memories. As his kids began to grow so did Brian’s coaching background, coaching both Zach and Brianna in their respective sports.
Similar to his dad, Zach took a love of America’s Pastime at a young age. As Zach grew in knowledge and skill, Brian helped mentor his son by coaching the game that he loved; something that benefited Brian as a parent and coach.
“ (After professional baseball) I went in a different direction, still in baseball, but coaching youth, then high school and now college baseball. It was well worth it,” Brian said.
Brian Raabe’s son Zach is now the starting second baseman for the Gophers and one of the most talented collegiate players in the country, following in his dad’s footsteps.
Dad Brian is just across the Mississippi, a short drive away from Siebert Field to watch Zach play. In the meantime he’s turned Bethel into a Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) powerhouse, propelling the Royals to a 2018 MIAC title.
And while Raabe's time in professional baseball is in the rearview mirror, he will never forget the memories that evolved from a childhood dream.
“My goal was to play college baseball at the University of Minnesota and my dream was to get drafted by the Minnesota Twins and that came true,” Raabe said. “I got to play with some great players, the best part to me? It all started in New Ulm, Minnesota.”
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