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Gore and Dobnak Lead By Example

Posted by SD Buhr , 08 July 2018 · 989 views

After the Cedar Rapids Kernels finished batting practice on a warm, humid July 4 afternoon, two of the most productive players on their roster agreed to sit down and talk about the season.

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Jordan Gore and Randy Dobnak go through Kernels pre-game workouts on July 4, 2018 (Photo by SD Buhr)

One, an infielder, has been hitting over .300 with an on-base percentage around .400 virtually all season. (And three days after the interview, his bags were packed for Chattanooga, where he’d been promoted to join former Kernels manager Tommy Watkins’ Lookouts.)

The other, a starting pitcher, is 6-2 on the season and leads the Kernels in innings pitched.

Unless you’re a pretty serious student of the Minnesota Twins’ minor league system or a Kernels season ticket holder, there’s a chance you’ve never heard of either of them.

Jordan Gore was selected by the Twins out of Coastal Carolina in the 17th round of the 2017 draft and Randy Dobnak never got a post-draft call at all after completing his college career at Alderson Broaddus University in West Virginia. They made the most of their college days on and off the field, both making the Dean’s List regularly at their respective schools.

Gore started his college career at South Carolina before transferring to Coastal Carolina in his hometown of Conway, SC, where he underwent Tommy John surgery and ended up sitting out the Chanticleers’ NCAA championship season in 2016. Having to sit out that championship season wasn’t as tough for Gore as one might think.

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Jordan Gore (Photo by SD Buhr)

“Honestly you can say so,” Gore said, “but I’ve said this time and time again. That was best group of guys that I've ever been around as far as pulling for each other, working hard, all around good personalities and good people. It was probably better for me to sit back and watch how they did it. They taught me a lot about how to play the game the right way.

“I’ve got nothing but love for everybody at Coastal. I tell you what, it made me a lot better person and a player.”

Dobnak pitched for Alderson Broadus University in Philippi, West Virginia, where he had a career 26-12 record and set a Great Midwest Athletic Conference record with 284 career strikeouts.

You wouldn’t fault Gore, a shortstop by trade, if he had been more than a little troubled by the fact that he was drafted by an organization that also used the first overall pick of the 2017 draft to select a guy who plays the same position. But Gore says he wasn’t concerned at all at the prospect of trying to work his way up through the Twins farm system virtually in tandem with top prospect Royce Lewis.

“Honestly, I was just happy to get the call because after my last (college) game it kind of hit me, man this could be the last time I lace my spikes up,” Gore said, concerning his draft position, “and Royce is a great guy. It’s great to be playing with him. It’s a lot of fun.”

Gore didn’t exactly follow the draft moment by moment, waiting to hear his name called, but admits being relieved when it was over.

“I tried to keep my mind off of it,” he recalled. “I tried to just stay away from thinking about it too much. When I finally did get the call, it was a lot off my shoulders because you can try not to think about it as much as you want, but it's always going to be there.”

While Gore had to be patient on draft day, Dobnak wasn’t all that surprised that he didn’t get a call when the draft had been completed.

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Randy Dobnak (Photo by SD Buhr)

“Being in the mountains of West Virginia, there were a few teams that were talking to me or my coaches,” he explained. “But when they’d try and come see me play, we’d get rained out, snowed out. too cold. So, I didn’t really know what to expect (on draft day).”

Not being drafted didn’t mean Dobnak was ready to call it a career, however. He used a connection made in his freshman year of college to land a spot on the pitching staff of the Utica Unicorns, an independent minor league team in a four-team league about an hour outside Detroit, Michigan.

“I played there for like a month. I had played with (the manager’s) son. He was my catcher my freshmen and sophomore year (of college). After a freshman year tournament, we were all out to eat and his dad was like, ‘I want you come play for my team once you graduate.’ Three years later, I'm like, 'Alright, let's do this thing.'”

A few weeks later, he signed with the Twins and he spent the rest of last summer in Elizabethton and Cedar Rapids.

Dobnak put up a combined ERA of 2.43 and a WHIP of 0.96 in six appearances (four as a starter) at the two 2017 stops and has followed that up with a very solid first three months with the Kernels this summer. In 14 appearances (11 of them as a starter), he has a 3.74 ERA and has struck out 49 batters, while walking just 13.

He has averaged seven innings of work in his last five starts for the Kernels.

At the time of his promotion to Chattanooga on July 7, Gore was hitting .307 with a solid .770 OPS and had a .333 average and 1.044 OPS in the month of July. While splitting infield time with Royce Lewis, Andrew Bechtold and Jose Miranda, Gore has made 33 appearances at second base, 23 at shortstop, five at third base and even made one late-game mop up appearance on the mound for Cedar Rapids.

On a team seemingly filled with very young talent, Gore and Dobnak have stood out as 23-year-olds and their manager, Toby Gardenhire, has appreciated the level of effort and leadership they’ve brough to the field, as well as the clubhouse.

“He’s been great,” the manager said of Dobnak. “He grabs the ball and goes out there and does whatever you want him to do. He works really hard every day, shows up ready to go. He's the epitome of the guy that you want on your team. He doesn't say much, he just goes out there and does his job every day.

“His skill level has been great, he's done a great job, but the big thing for us is that he's very professional with everything that he does. When you have this many young guys on a team like we do that you're trying to teach how to be professionals, then you need guys like him where you can say, ‘Hey you see how Dobnak does this? You see what he does? You see how he goes about his business? That's the way it needs to be. That's how you have to act.’

“So, aside from the fact that he's doing great, which is all credit to him and how hard he works, he's just a great person. He's a great leader for us.”

Gardenhire offered a similar strong endorsement for Gore.

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Jordan Gore (Photo by SD Buhr)

“Gore’s the same way,” his manager said. “He's ‘game on.’ He's funny, but the way he goes about his business, the way he goes out and gets it every day - when you put him in the lineup, you know what you're going to get from him. You’re going to get effort. Dives all over the place and will do anything to win baseball games.

“You would think that with baseball players in professional baseball, you're going to have a whole group of guys that just want to try to win games, that will do anything for the team, but it's not always like that. That's a taught trait. You either have something in you that says ‘Hey, I'll do whatever it takes to win this game' or you have to learn that. He's one of those guys, he just has it. That’s what he wants. He wants to win and he'll do anything.

“I always call those guys dirtballs. He's driving all over the place. You're not going to see him with his uniform clean for very long in a game. That's one of those things, again, when you have a whole bunch of young talented guys like we have, to have a guy like that who shows them the way. They see him diving all over the place. He's mad when we lose and he gets fired up. They see that and it starts to kind of rub off on them. That's what you want.”

A couple of relatively unheralded players on a team stocked with highly-regarded younger prospects could be forgiven if they felt some pressure to perform well enough to get noticed by their front office, but neither Gore nor Dobnak sounded like that was the case for them.

“I don't think it's pressure,” Gore said. “Speaking for myself, I come out here and want to work hard. This is fun for us! I mean it’s the best job in the world, right?

“Yep,” concurred Dobnak.

“I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to come out here and work hard?” asked Gore, “because when you work hard, you tend to play well. It makes it a lot more fun.”

Neither player is concerning himself too much with what’s going on with the Twins’ affiliates at the higher levels, however.

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Randy Dobnak (Photo by SD Buhr)

“I check out the scores and see how some of the guys I know are doing,” conceded Dobnak. “I just think if you prove to your coaches or front office that you’re good enough to move up, they’ll move you up. But all the guys, they work hard. They all work the same. You go out there and do whatever you’ve got to do. Compete.”

“I try not to think about (promotions), I’ll be honest with you,” said Gore. “I’m around a great bunch of guys every day and it’s a lot of fun. It doesn’t really pop into your head much. We’re just out here trying to win and we’ve been doing that here lately."

Given that Gore earned a promotion three days after those comments, his approach obviously worked for him.

One thing that comes through in virtually every conversation you have with any of this group of Kernels is how much they enjoy their teammates. It’s a close group, but even in the tightest of clubhouses, there will be differences. Gore and Dobnak are not completely in agreement in one aspect of the game.

Dobnak’s Twitter profile includes a reference to the hashtag #BanTheDH. Gore doesn’t sound ready to give away the at-bats he gets on days he DHs.

“Let the pitchers hit,” said Dobnak.

And why? “Because it’s more fun for the pitchers. When you grow up, you pitch, you hit, you play the infield!”

It’s all about the pitchers, right Jordan?

“No offense to the pitchers out there, but you’re probably giving up an out every time,” a smiling Gore responded.
“I'm just kidding,” the professional hitter in the conversation added. “We've got a lot of good athletes on the (pitching staff), I’m sure they could probably pick up a stick and hit it.”

(This article was originally posted at Knuckleballsblog.com.)

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