Dobnak played high school baseball at South Park which is outside of Pittsburgh.
Randy then went to Division II Alderson Broaddus in Buckhannon, West Virginia. He had a double major in accounting and business administration. He had a 3.5 GPA and was on the Dean’s List.
“Coming out of high school, it was the only school that offered me,” Dobnak said. “I decided to go with that. The hills of West Virginia. Kind of like the middle of nowhere, but I had a lot of fun.”
Dobnak went undrafted following his senior year in college. So he signed with the independent Utica Unicorns of the United Shore Professional Baseball League (USPBL).
In six starts with Utica, Dobnak posted a 3-0 record with a 2.31 ERA and had 29 strikeouts. After pitching a complete game for Utica, he was signed by the Twins the next day.
“I had teams contact me in college, but never the Twins,” Dobnak said. “I had no idea it was going to happen until the morning of. I was sitting at my table having breakfast and one of the guys that works up there called me and said, ‘Hey, the Twins want to contact you.’ They called me and 20 minutes later, I was signed with the Twins.”
Randy remains calm and is never excited. Over the years, coaches would ask Dobnak's father, "Does Randy really want to play baseball?"
To which his dad would reply, "That's all he wants to do."
Then the coach would say something like, "Well, he sure don't get excited by it!"
April 2019, Randy threw his first pitch of the season in Class A Advanced Fort Myers. In 2017, he was pitching for the Utica Unicorns in the obscure United Shore Professional Baseball League, which had never before produced a Major League player.
Considering all of that, it’s not difficult to understand why Dobnak and his fiancée, Aerial Munson, scheduled their wedding for Sept. 28, 2019, because the Minor League season would have long since ended by then. The nuptials are scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET, in Williamsport, Md.
Here’s the “problem:” Dobnak earned his first Major League win in the Twins’ 4-3 victory over the Royals on September 20, 2019, and they’re scheduled to play at Kansas City at 7:15 p.m. on Sept. 28! And improbably, Dobnak, the 24-year-old rookie, has quickly become a valuable contributor to this Minnesota team, which trimmed its magic number to clinch the American League Central title to five.
“I planned it two years ago,” Dobnak said. “Who would have thought this would be a thing, you know?”
Wedding or not, Dobnak’s improbable 2019 season continued when he allowed one run over 5 1/3 strong innings against the Royals at Target Field, marking his second consecutive strong start as part of the Twins’ piecemeal pitching plan to fill Michael Pineda’s rotation spot through the end of the regular season. The million-dollar question, then: Given how much value Dobnak has provided the Twins, will his wedding proceed as planned? He hadn’t exactly given his skipper too much notice.
“I think we were back in Cleveland [a week ago], and he goes, ‘Have you heard about the whole wedding thing?’ in the food line,” Baldelli said with a grin. “I had heard about it a little bit, but that was the first I heard from him.”
Fortunately for Dobnak, Baldelli, a benevolent leader, understands that the wedding has been planned for two years and that it would be difficult to reroute the 235 guests that have RSVP'd for the festivities. The wedding will proceed as planned.
“People have just been kind of rolling with it,” Dobnak said. “People have already called off work, booked their hotels, and stuff like that. Whatever happens, happens, that’s what we’ve been saying.”
His teammates won’t be so lucky. “We'll be there from afar,” Smeltzer said. “We'll FaceTime him. Hopefully, we clinch before he leaves, so he's a part of the celebration."
While some of the items on the wedding registries created by the happy couple include multi-surface cleaner and a 67-inch leaf rake, Dobnak also hopes to use the increased awareness of his wedding for good by setting up a way for people to donate to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as part of the registry. And in a way, all of Dobnak’s strong pitching has helped navigate this saga to a happy ending, too. If the righthander stays in line in the rotation, he would next pitch on September 26, which would likely have rendered him unable to pitch for the following two days—including his wedding date.
Dobnak has maintained a good sense of humor about all of this. As he pointed out, between the Major League experience and the upcoming wedding, he’s having the time of his life. “There could be a worse reason this is happening,” Dobnak said with a laugh. (Park - mlb.com - 9/20/19)
Sept. 28, 2019: Dobnak and his fiancée, Aerial Munson were married.
Dobnak drove for Uber and Lyft before signing with the Twins.
"I actually loved doing Uber," Dobnak told Hannah Keyser of Yahoo Sports. "Every time you get a ride, it's different. Keeps things interesting."
In 2020, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Randy as the 15th-best prospect in the Twins' organization.
Randy threw six shutout innings and helped lead the Twins to a decisive 10-0 win over the Indians at Progressive Field in front of a number of friends and family, including his grandfather, who had yet to see him pitch in person in the Majors.
“My Pap has never seen me pitch in the big leagues,” Dobnak said. “He’s older, obviously, so it was pretty cool to see him get out here and see me pitch for the first time. He’s seen me pitch in college and in the Minor Leagues but never in the big leagues, so special day.” (Guerrero - mlb.com - 5/21/2021)
Nov 15, 2021: Behind a Major League player, there's the dedicated support group that's always been there for him, from the childhood games of catch, the long years of Minor League ball, to that dreamlike moment of first watching him take the field in a big league uniform under the bright lights of a three-tiered ballpark.
That long journey involved a good deal of uncertainty for Randy Dobnak and his family, spanning a stint in a little-known independent league in Michigan after he was undrafted out of a Division II college, getting scouted via YouTube and driving Uber on the side before his meteoric rise to the Majors with the Twins in 2019.
And now that Dobnak has secured his future with a five-year extension signed before the 2021 season, he made sure to show his parents, Rick and Jodi, his gratitude for their support over the years by paying off the remainder of their mortgage, as revealed in a video he shared to his Twitter feed. "I remember seeing guys doing that when they were first-rounders and always wished I would be able to," Dobnak said to MLB.com in a text message.
Dobnak was far from a first-rounder with a big signing bonus as he emerged from Alderson Broaddus University in rural West Virginia, and he's never treated this career or any stability therein as a given, even after he pitched himself all the way from A-ball to a playoff start in the Majors at Yankee Stadium in 2019.
Rick Dobnak has followed his son's journey through amateur and pro ball with his trusty camera and truck, taking time away from his job as a union electrician when he could, while Jodi would chant for her son and scream his name from the stands. Randy always had a knack for spotting his father's camera in the stands as Rick took photos of his son and teammates to share with those families.
"From Prospect Park to Target Field, the both of you have always been in my corner," Dobnak wrote in a letter to his parents, read by his mother on video. "Without you, none of this would be possible. I was and will always be grateful for all of the sacrifices you made during [brother] R.J.'s and my childhood."
All those sacrifices led to a guaranteed $9.2 million payday when the Twins bought out the remainder of Dobnak's pre-arbitration and arbitration years last offseason, allowing Randy and wife Aerial Dobnak greater means to support the charitable causes that they've always hoped to emphasize as a big league family—St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in particular.
And through all that, Randy never forgot those two-plus-hour drives his parents would make and all the financial support they gave for years of travel ball to let him live out his baseball dream.
"They definitely worked their asses off to provide for my brother and I, and it’s the least I could do," he said to MLB.com. "Just want them to have the life they'd always imagined."
As for what that looks like? Not thinking about that mortgage might well have added years to Rick's life, he said to his son, and maybe they'll start flying to the Twin Cities for Randy's starts instead of driving the 14 hours and begin to enjoy more travel away from home in the Pittsburgh area.
"There isn't anything I could possibly do to thank both of you for everything you've done, but there is one thing I've always wished I would do to show how appreciative I am for everything you've done," Dobnak wrote to his parents.
"How'd you get ahold of my mortgage?" Rick simply asked with a grin. (DH Park - MLB.com - Nov 15, 2021)
- 2017: The Twins signed Dobnak as a non-drafted free agent, out of Alderson-Broaddus College in West Virginia.
- March 28, 2021: Dobnak and the Twins agreed to five-year, $9.2 million extension.
|Birth City:||South Park, PA|
|Draft:||Twins - NDFA - 2017 - Out of Alderson-Broaddus College (WV)|
Dobnak has a decent 91-96 mph 4-seam FASTBALL he uses up in the zone. And he has a 90-95 mph one-seam SINKER with plenty of sink. He has plus control and plus command of both heaters (65 grade). His hard 81-83 mph SLIDER works well as a chase pitch with some downer break. He has a nice 83-85 mph CHANGEUP, too.
Randy makes it all work by keeping one step ahead of the hitters and placing all four of his pitches on the corners with 60 grade or better command. He has feel and he is a gutty righthander. (Spring, 2020)
2019 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball 21.1% of the time, his Sinker 38.1%; Change 12.8%; and Slider 28.1% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 93.3 mph, Sinker 92, Change 85.7, and Slider 84.1 mph.
2020 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball 4.4% of the time, his Sinker 44.1%; Change 16.2%; and Slider 35.3% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 93.2 mph, Sinker 91.7, Change 85.9, and Slider 83.7 mph.
2020 Season: Following a blistering start that had him gaining some Rookie of the Year attention, Dobnak regressed and was out of the rotation by year’s end.
He ended up with a 4.05 ERA, after carrying a sub-2.00 number through his first several starts. It’s unfortunate that he dropped off so quickly, but he really helped the Twins get through the first month of the season while Berrios was struggling and Pineda, Odorizzi, and Rich Hill were out for various reasons. (Jonathan Gamble@JGambleBaseball - Oct 23, 2020)
HELP FROM A HIGH SCHOOL CATCHER
Most people know at this point that very, very little about Dobnak's baseball career has been anything close to conventional. So it probably wasn't as surprising as it should have been when Dobnak casually mentioned after he was named to the Opening Day roster that much of his offseason work on his sinker happened in partnership with a 17-year-old high school catcher. That's not the kind of thing that stands out in Dobnak-world.
"Really, anything that Randy does, regardless of what it is, I'm not really surprised by it," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "If he can get his work in throwing to a 17-year-old catcher or throwing to a 71-year-old catcher or throwing by himself, maybe, even in a cage to a net, I think that he would find a way to get some productive work in either way."
But for the 17-year-old, that's kind of a really big deal. And Milton was more than happy to share his experiences.
"It spread like wildfire, especially through here," Milton said. "Everyone just talked about it. Everyone was sitting there wanting to have a conversation with me like I was the one in the big leagues and Randy's the one catching me. I was a celebrity at the town."
Keep in mind: This isn't Los Angeles or Tampa or New York, where high school kids can expect to be in the same zip code as several other big leaguers. Milton lives in Hedgesville, West Virginia, population 299. It's nestled in the sparsely populated part of the state's eastern panhandle near the winding Potomac River about 70 miles northwest of Washington, DC. Fortunately for him, that's where Dobnak recently bought a house.
Even while living in rural West Virginia, Dobnak still needed to play catch and throw bullpen sessions. Until recently, he was just trying to make the team, after all. His old catcher was too busy with work, so Dobnak, naturally, reached out to the coach at Hedgesville High School to see if there were any backstops he could work with.
A few of the students got called out to a field to just play catch with the big leaguer one day. Milton was 16 at the time. Two or three months later, he got a text from Dobnak, out of the blue, asking if he could catch a bullpen session.
"It was the coolest thing in the world that a Major League baseball player actually just texted me and wants to go play catch," Milton said.
Before they started, Dobnak offered a word of warning.
"This ball is probably going to move a lot more than you've seen," he told Milton.
Unsurprisingly, the first pitch jammed Milton's thumb pretty good.
"That was my first time ever seeing, like, an actual real-life sinker," Milton said. "It's still coming 90 mph. I'd only caught 90 about one time before that."
He soldiered through. And he impressed Dobnak enough that he kept coming back. It probably took around six or seven bullpen sessions for Milton to get used to the movement, but he eventually got good at sticking it.
"He can catch the ball and it doesn't break his thumb," Dobnak said. "He has a pretty decent arm, too. That doesn't hurt."
One day, Aidan Milton was being lackadaisical with his glove while playing catch on the field with Dobnak. One of Dobnak's throws hit Milton's glove, rolled out of the pocket, and hit the Hedgesville High School catcher smack in the face, popping a lens out of his glasses. Milton cried out . . . but in laughter, not pain.
"Randy pointed at me, just started running over here, thought he just busted me in the face," Milton said with a hearty laugh. "I didn't hurt or anything, but the ball rolled out hitting the glasses, and it looked like he hit the face. Of course, I scared him to death because he thought he'd just killed a 17-year-old." In hindsight, it's actually kind of concerning that Dobnak didn't immediately remember the incident.
"I completely almost forgot about that," Dobnak said. "I think his dad came just to watch or whatever. I was like, 'Yeah, hopefully he catches the ball today!'"
Milton caught Dobnak during the COVID-19 shutdown before the 2020 regular season, and they reconvened starting in November 2020. They played catch every day at the local fields, and Dobnak threw a bullpen session every weekend. Dobnak credited those sessions with helping him refine the sinker that often moved too much in 2020, and he showed much more consistency in that pitch this spring with Milton's help.
Dobnak helped Milton out, too, with videos of some of the Twins' catching techniques to help the young backstop with both receiving and framing at the bottom of the zone, working down to up through the ball in a way that Milton hadn't done before. Dobnak showed him some videos of Mitch Garver's receiving skills, and Ben Rortvedt had some Instagram footage up, too.
"I've always been used to dropping and blocking all the time, people getting wild, but Randy's sinker wouldn't miss maybe more than four or five inches," Milton said. "It helped me actually really learn how to like, stick pitches and make them look better in the strike zone."
Milton has been playing baseball since he was 4 or 5 years old and starting off at shortstop, every kid's dream. When he was 9, his coach asked him to catch one day—and he stuck at the position for good. Once Dobnak started introducing pro techniques into his game, Milton started going down the rabbit hole himself. And word gets around when a high schooler establishes himself as a Major Leaguer's personal catcher.
West Virginia Wesleyan College heard about these sessions and actually called Milton for a visit to the campus. He's now committed to WVU Potomac State College, and it helped that head coach Doug Little was quite impressed with the experience Milton had already accumulated.
"It's definitely a big deal when you actually see good pitching and can actually handle it in high velocity, instead of somebody just throwing 75 down the middle to you and you stick it," Milton said.It should help in his career, too, that he can call a big league pitcher his friend. He and Dobnak play "Call of Duty" together at times. "He's definitely the one carrying that squad," Milton said. And Dobnak had Milton and his girlfriend over at his house for the Super Bowl, where Milton actually bested him in Ping Pong.
"Some people on my team don't believe that I actually play with him on PlayStation or anything like that," Milton said. "They don't think I actually do it. But then they actually started seeing videos of it."
Dobnak wouldn't have gotten to this point in his own career if people hadn't looked out for him and taken chances on him. His only collegiate offer was from Division II Alderson-Broaddus. Jim Essian, his coach in the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League, gave him a shot at pro ball. Billy Milos of the Twins scouted Dobnak off YouTube and gave him a $500 signing bonus.
Why not pass forward opportunities like this to local kids in his community when possible?
"He gets more work out of it, I get my work done out of it, and I can just kind of mentor the younger kid and help him with his future, whether it's in college or not even baseball-related," Dobnak said. "So it's cool to be able to help a kid like that, especially a local kid."
Dobnak hopes to keep working with Milton when the catcher heads to college this fall. And beyond that? Maybe this could get Milton on pro radar, too.
"I had a few guys come up to me," Dobnak said. "Scout Frankie Padulo was one of them. He's like, 'Who's this Aidan guy? Is this a guy we need to look at?' I was like, 'You might want to give him a look. He's pretty good.'"
"He's a really good kid and I think he has a bright future ahead of him," Dobnak added. "Hopefully he can grow a little bit, though. We'll get there." (DFH Park - MLB.com - March 30, 2021)
- Entering the 2021 season, Randy had a career record of 8-5 and 3.12 ERA, allowing 77 hits with 4 home runs in 75 innings pitched.
June 24-Sept 1, 2021: Dobnak went on the 10-day Injured List with a right middle finger strain.
Sept. 8-Nov 5, 2021: Dobnak went on the 10-day Injured List with a right middle finger strain.
Manager Rocco Baldelli confirmed that Dobnak is likely to be done for the year. Baldelli said it involves a full tear of the A4 pulley in the finger. For now, Baldelli said the Twins don't anticipate the need for surgery.
"These type of injuries are going to have to heal over on their own," Baldelli said. "Those things take a little time. Some of these injuries don’t linger very long at all. Some of them do. Sometimes, and many times, again, the players are able to avoid procedures just because the scar tissue heals over, and then they ramp up and they don’t feel the pain any more. It sounds unusual."
- March 21-Sept 16, 2022: Dobnak's problematic tendons in his right middle finger didn't fully heal during the course of the offseason, and the Twins shut down his activity this spring before placing him on the IL.