Posted at 6:59 AM on October 2, 2006
by David Zingler
On June 13, Jason Kubel stepped into the batter's box in the 12th inning with his team trailing the Boston Red Sox 2-1. With one out, lefty Julian Tavarez was on the mound and the bases were loaded. Kubel proceeds to hit a high drive to right field; what initially looks like a fly ball carries until it barely clears the baggie. Pandemonium ensues in the Metrodome. The Twins 5-2 win moves their record to 29-34. We didn't know it at the time, but the victory marked the official beginning of the squad's march to an AL Central title.
"I didn't think (it would go out)," Kubel said of the watershed homerun. "The best I thought it would be is a sacrifice fly that would tie the game and give us a shot to win it. When it went out, it was probably one of the most exciting things to ever happen to me. It was a lot of fun, I would love to do it again a couple of more times."
That moment, which Kubel calls the highlight of his career, was not a sign of things to come for him, however. The 24-year-old outfielder had a strong June, receiving 81 at-bats. On July 1, he was hitting .314. Shortly after that, his surgically repaired left knee sabotaged his season. By September the promising prospect was out of the picture, tallying just 9 at-bats.
The injury that cost him the entire 2005 season occurred during a Arizona Fall League game in October 2004. "(I tore) three ligaments," The Twins 2004 Minor League Player of the Year explained. "It hurt really, really bad. The rehab on it was worse than everything else. It was a lot of hard work."
"June and July were pretty good and then the knee gave out and I couldn't get it going from there," Kubel said of his season. "It's frustrating especially since I was doing so well when I was in. To have what's happening now is frustrating. I am still happy about where our team is at, so that makes it better."
While Kubel was able to avoid a stint on the Disabled List, the bad knee did limit him to DHing and pinch-hitting. As the plate appearances became less frequent, his averaged headed south. He finished the season at .241.
"I was thinking (they might send me to Triple A to get at-bats), but I was hoping not," Kubel commented when discussing his sparse playing time. "For what happened, it all worked out pretty good, I think."
Although he hoped to have a larger role in the team's success, the injury has helped Kubel keeps things in perspective. "It was a lot better than watching it at home like I was last year," he reflected. "To be here and be a part of it and get a chance to get in (the game) every now and then (is great). I am still having a good time with it. It's tough because I was playing well before I got hurt, but it's not bad."
Unsure of his status regarding the playoff roster, Kubel has his sights set on 2007, "The last two years I've just been working to get my legs (strong enough) to walk and run," the South Dakota native stated. "Now that I can do that, I can get on a baseball program and get in better shape so I don't break down halfway through (the season) like I did this year."
With the injury prone Shannon Stewart likely to depart via free agency, Kubel will be among the top candidates to man leftfield for the defending AL Central Champs, "(Becoming the everyday left fielder) is what I am shooting for, like I was this year," he said. "I'll make sure I have a better chance by being healthy next year. I am looking forward to that."
Jason Kubel is my favorite MLB '06 video game player. The programmers must have liked him... he's batting nearly .370 with 19 HRs and just hit a walk-off grand slam my last game. Is he going to have a shot to start for the Twins this year?