Chad Durbin Joins ‘From Phenom To The Farm:’ Episode 6 (Part 1)

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“From Phenom to the Farm” releases new episodes every other Tuesday featuring players whose experiences vary across the professional baseball spectrum. Players will discuss their personal experiences going from high school graduation to the life of a professional baseball player.

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Even as an amateur, Chad Durbin seemed to fly a bit more under the radar than his talent (and the 800+ MLB innings he’d eventually throw) would suggest. In the days before the existence of numerous scouting services and social media, Durbin didn’t have the buildup or draft hype that a high schooler eventually deemed worthy of a 3rd round pick would typically receive.

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For most of his high school career, the draft wasn’t on his radar. Not because he didn’t want to be a professional — on the contrary, that had been his goal from an early age. He’d just assumed college was the only path for him to get there.

Living in the Baton Rouge area, Durbin and his hometown LSU Tigers were on each other’s radar, but Durbin kept his collegiate options open. After a trip to the University of Alabama that left Durbin with a full-ride scholarship and opportunity to play centerfield, it looked like he was going to be a member of the Crimson Tide.

However, what Durbin was soon to learn was that he was living in Tiger country, and legendary coach Skip Bertman had a few power moves to pull when dueling for a recruit.

The weekend after his Alabama visit, Durbin was playing in a 10AM game on a Saturday morning, and sitting in the first row was Bertman donning his LSU uniform. And he hadn’t come alone. He’d brought a few local news stations with him.

A teammate of Durbin looked at him and relayed what everyone in attendance was likely thinking.

“He looked at me and goes, ‘You know you have to go to LSU now, right?’”

Skip Bertman had his recruit, but even his uniform, TV cameras, and winning tradition couldn’t compete with Durbin’s top goal of becoming a professional, especially when the pros came calling before he made it to campus.

Heading into the June 1996 draft, even Durbin himself had no clue where his draft fortunes might lie.

While he had fielded a few calls from organizations, there’d been no full bonus negotiations, and certainly nothing that could be indicated heavy draft “buzz” around Major League Baseball. He was as surprised as anyone when the Royals made him, per his BA scouting report in the organization’s ’98 Top 10 Prospects, “an obscure third-round pick.”

Once the professional route was laid out in front of Durbin, there wasn’t much Skip Bertman could do.

“I remember thinking, I’m not going to let him talk me out of this” said Durbin when recalling his signing decision. “I’ve got a chance to see if I’m good enough to go play at the pro level (…) I’m going to chase this thing down.”

He put pen to paper and headed to the GCL, beginning what would be a quick climb through the Royals’ system. It didn’t take Durbin too long to go from “obscure” to fast-tracked. He learned the ropes of being a professional in the Midwest League, put himself on the prospect map in the Carolina League, and then earned a September call-up before his 22nd birthday by putting together a solid season in the Texas League.

Durbin spent the 2000 and 2001 seasons splitting time between AAA and the big leagues, but by the end of the ’01 season he’d found his footing in the big leagues. He headed to Spring Training in 2002 preparing for life as a firmly entrenched big league pitcher, looking ahead to being a workhorse in the Kansas City rotation for years to come.

Then his elbow started barking.

In Part 1 of our conversation with former big leaguer Chad Durbin on ‘From Phenom to the Farm’, we’ll discuss his amateur career and first rise through the minor leagues. He will talk about the mindset that gets you through the GCL, playoff runs and mascot fights in the minor leagues, and working to entrench yourself in the big leagues as a young player.

Please remember to subscribe to ‘From Phenom to the Farm’ wherever you get your podcasts and leave a rating & review. Tune in for Part 2 with Chad Durbin on Tuesday, May 19th.

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