A little more than three years removed from playing in the deciding game of the College World Series for the Arizona Wildcats, Bobby Dalbec returned to Tucson and Hi Corbett Field last Saturday night when his alma mater hosted Team USA in an exhibition to begin the Wildcats’ fall season.
Dalbec, who after the game UA coach Jay Johnson referred to as “the most important player of all time” in terms of his coaching career, went 1 for 4 with a single and a walk in his team’s 9-7 victory.
While it probably wasn’t the homecoming the Boston Red Sox prospect had been dreaming of, it’s obvious that things are still on the up and up for the talented corner infielder.
Since he left Arizona at the end of his junior year in 2016, the 24-year-old Dalbec has quickly ascended up the levels of the Red Sox farm system. He earned an invitation to Team USA after hitting an impressive .256/.301/.478 (BA, OBP, Slugging) once he was called up to the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox during the 2019 season.
Incredibly, the timing of his invitation to the national team means that the former Wildcat is now well and truly in contention for a place at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics next year.
Next month, Team USA sets off for Mexico for a chance to qualify for next summer’s games.
“He’s going to be a major part of what we do,” Team USA manager Scott Brosius said Saturday.
We caught up with Dalbec at Hi Corbett after his return to Tucson and talked to him about coming back to play his former school, representing his country, what his future has in store and more.
Arizona Desert Swarm: Take us through the process of getting selected for this US Olympic Qualifying Team?
Bobby Dalbec: “It was really simple. With about two or three weeks left in the season I got a call from Paul Seiler (the Executive Director and CEO of USA Baseball) and he said, ‘I want you to come out and play the corners (first and third base) for Team USA to qualify for the Olympics’. After that it was an easy decision for me.”
If this team does qualify, will you automatically be included on the Olympic roster?
“No. They’d like to keep as many guys as possible from this team, I think, but you can’t be on a 40-man roster and play in the big stuff for this like the Olympics. All of us are non 40-man roster guys but if I’m not on (a) 40-man roster during that time then yeah I’d love to come play. If I am on a 40-man then, though, you know they’ll find somebody.”
What’s it feel like to represent your country in something like an Olympic qualifier?
“So far it’s been this great experience. I’ve played with the college national team before, but we didn’t get to go out of country. We’re going to Mexico on Tuesday and then the top two teams out of there go to Tokyo. It’s definitely special and been a lot of fun.”
What changes in your swing led to a breakout 2019?
“Even though the last couple seasons have been pretty good, I was a lot more consistent this year commanding the strike zone as a hitter. Even after the season I went to Boston and worked with some of the guys up there and cleaned some stuff up. Just continuing to work was really the biggest thing.”
What do you feel like you need to take your career to the next level and get that big league call up?
“You know I feel pretty ready honestly, and I feel good especially with some of the tweaks I’ve made and some of the things I’ve been working on. I think they know I’m close, if not ready, but you know that’s not really up to me. I just have to keep getting better and just do my thing.”
What are your expectations for 2020?
“Obviously I’d like to make my debut, but you know I just want to keep getting better, that’s the way you have to look at it. You really can’t really look into the future too much. You just have to keep grinding every day and get a little bit better.”
Emotions coming back to Hi Corbett?
“It was weird, man. I’ve been back here quite a bit, but not playing against them or really playing in general. Just to kind of get my work in, but tonight was definitely a different feeling. It was cool, very special you know, first time playing here against them. Definitely weird though. That clubhouse over there is a little bit nicer than the visiting one.”
Have you checked out the Terry Francona Hitting Center?
“Yeah, I was actually here at the ceremony the day it opened and it’s an awesome facility. It’s pretty cool to see that Terry donated to do that.”
What did you learn during your time here in Tucson?
“The biggest thing was just learning to buy into something. I think Jay (Johnson) is really good at getting people to buy in as a team. You can see tonight how they’re always getting more work in and they’re all out there getting after it from the first pitch. That’s what Jay does. He kind of brings almost that hockey mentality to a baseball team.”
Favorite memory from your time at Arizona?
“I think obviously the College World Series was fun, but I think the day that we were honoring Josh (Knight), the kid that was around the team battling cancer and he passed away. His whole family was out here this one day against UCLA and we walked it off for him. It was a fun team win for him, especially with a lot of his family members and people supporting him and his family there.”