Leadership manifests in different forms. For former Arizona pitcher Robby Medel, it was keeping team morale high with his quirky antics and unbounded enthusiasm in the dugout, as you can see in this Mic’d Up feature:
It was that, not necessarily his contributions on the mound, that made him such a vital member of the Arizona Wildcats baseball team from 2015 to 2018, though he did have some fine moments as a pitcher as well.
The right-hander from Grand Prairie, Texas compiled a 4.33 ERA in 133.1 innings at the UA, including a 2.96 ERA in 2017 when Arizona reached the NCAA Tournament. Of course, that season did not compare to 2016 when Medel and the Wildcats were the national runner-up at the College World Series.
We caught up with Medel to discuss his career and see what he is up to these days. (Spoiler: he lives in Casa Grande and works in sales at ADP in Tempe).
Here is the Q&A, which has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Ryan Kelapire: How would you sum up your Arizona career?
Robby Medel: “It was a lot of fun. Obviously I wish I played a little bit better and had a bigger role on the team, playing-wise. I feel like I had a big role in terms of other things, and Coach (Jay) Johnson always looked at me as a leader. So that was something that I took pride in and it was really important to me. But I made a lot of friends and had a lot of good experiences.”
RK: Why was your role in the dugout so important?
RM: “I think I just allowed people to show our team that you can have fun playing baseball. Yeah, there’s times when we were serious, there’s times where I was even very serious, but just the importance of having fun and creating relationships beyond the baseball field was something that we did.”
RK: How would you describe yourself as a pitcher?
RM: “I didn’t throw very hard. I was anywhere from 85 to 88, maybe 89, 90 on a lucky day. I had to rely on being smart, and once I got older, being an older smart guy. I just wasn’t as naturally talented as some of the other guys that came through. I worked hard for the innings that I got, and do wish I pitched more, but I learned so much from the experience I had, the hard work I put in.”
RK: What was so special about the 2016 team?
RM: “I mean, we had great leaders, guys like Nathan Bannister, Zach Gibbons, Cody Ramer, Ryan Aguilar, Bobby Dalbec. We had a really good core of older guys that took stuff that we learned from Coach (Andy) Lopez and translated it over to the style that Jay (Johnson) brought, and I think that’s what it really was—those older guys and the experience that they had, and we kind of just rallied around them.”
RK: And what about the talent level?
RM: “It was unreal. I mean, we had Bobby Dalbec, who’s gonna be a big leaguer. We had (infielder) J.J. (Matijevic), who is probably going to be a big leaguer. We had (first baseman) Ryan Aguilar, who is still playing minor league baseball. Gibby and Ramer both had over 100 hits that year. Nathan Bannister, Kevin Ginkel, Bobby was our pitching staff, Cameron Ming was unreal coming out and getting lefties and righties out, starting, closing, doing everything we needed. Even Alfonso Rivas was getting outs that year—and getting big hits at the same time.
“Guys like Justin Behnke and Kyle Lewis, they really weren’t big names but those guys went out had great at-bats, played great defense. Oh, and (outfielder) Jared Oliva, who’s going to be a big leaguer pretty soon, he was on that team. So there was talent all over the place. (Pitcher) Rio Gomez was on that team. (Pitchers) Cody Deason, Michael Flynn all these guys are still playing.”
RK: What was your experience at the College World Series like?
RM: “It was the most fun 17 days I’ve ever had in my life. It was the most emotional roller coaster baseball-wise I’ve ever been on. Winning against Miami, losing against Oklahoma State, beating Santa Barbara, beating Oklahoma State twice, getting into the final, winning the first game, losing the next two, and then when you walk away from it, just really appreciating that you got to do all of that. Yeah, we didn’t win it all, but so many people play college baseball, but not everybody gets to experience Omaha. So I’m really grateful for that.”
RK: When you think about falling one win short of a national championship, what kind of emotion does that evoke?
RM: “I try not to think about it. I just try to think about that the fact that I was there. Coastal Carolina was an awesome team. They were the Cinderella and they deserved it, they played really good baseball. I try not to bring along negative thoughts with that experience because it was just so amazing for the little over two weeks that we were there.”
RK: What was so fun about it?
RM: “Watching really, really good baseball every day. There was a lot of really good baseball teams, a lot of good baseball players that were there, and then obviously being able to have the fun that I did in the dugout with Sawyer (Giseke) and guys like Michael Hoard, Austin Schnabel, and Tyler Crawford, who weren’t on the field as much but were just having as much fun as we could, supporting our teammates who were out there.”
RK: How did you get to be the lead singer in the This Town video in Omaha? (Which is embedded below.)
RM: “It all started with the Goo Goo Cats video that Sawyer filmed, edited. and produced. He did everything. I was just the guy who was lucky enough to put on 90s alternative song at a party because we were tired of hearing rap all day. And I was the guy who started singing along with it, and then the next week we were like, ‘let’s just make a music video out of it.’ Sawyer did it all. And then I was just the guy that happened to be lucky enough to be up front with Tyler Crawford, Kaleb Roper and then Michael Hoard in Omaha.”
RK: How many takes did it take to complete the This Town video?
RM: “We probably recorded for like four, five hours and then the Goo Goo Cats video, we filmed for like nine hours because that was a four-minute video.”
RK: What were the most memorable outings of your career?
RM: “There’s two. The one from my senior year. We were down early against Washington State, I think it was 5-1, and I threw like 4 2⁄3 scoreless (innings), got out of a big ninth-inning jam. We ended up losing by one, which was unfortunate. Another one that I think of is we were playing ASU my redshirt freshman year. Cody Hamlin started, it was a midweek game, and I came in and threw 6 1⁄3 (innings), gave up couple runs, but held them there, and we ended up pulling away at the end.”
RK: What have you been up to since graduating?
RM: “First I worked on a political campaign for a little bit in Texas. When that ended, I moved back to Arizona and I worked in a warehouse for three months, HATED it.”
RK: What were you doing there?
RM: “I worked in a freezer at a Walmart distribution center in Casa Grande, Arizona just because I needed to make some money. And then I just looked in the mirror and was like, ‘you’re not doing this anymore.’ So I played (independent) ball, did pretty well in indy ball. I had a (2.82) ERA with (11) starts. It was pretty fun. And then when that ended, I was like, ‘it’s time to get a real job.’ And since then I have been at ADP, working in outside sales for small businesses, which right now is a little tough.”
RK: What’s next for you?
RM: “For right now I’ll probably just continue in sales. I really like it. My ultimate goal outside of baseball was to always get into sports broadcasting. So if you’re reading this, help me out. If baseball ever gets back, I’ll definitely go call games for the U of A and stuff like that, but it’s just riding out this sales career that I just started. I really like it.”
RK: You played for the Tucson Saguaros in the Pecos League last year. Do you have any more baseball left in you?
RM: “I picked up a baseball for the first time since then like two weeks ago. It really hurt, so probably not. Maybe I’ll go play for an adult league team, but pitching at a minimum. I’ll play some centerfield and some first base but that’s about it.”
RK: We’re both Raider fans, so I have to get your prediction for the 2020 season.
RM: “For the Las Vegas Raiders, with Derek Carr running the show, they go 11-6. They’re gonna be in the playoffs with the new playoff format. 10-7 and 11-6, that’s kind of our range. I really like the adds that we’ve made on defense. I feel like there’s still gonna be some things we do on the offensive side of the ball, really gotta go find a receiver. I wish that we would have gotten DeAndre Hopkins but I’m happy for the Cardinals.”
RK: So how far in the playoffs will the Raiders go?
This article is part of an ongoing Q&A series that will highlight former UA student-athletes. The rest of the editions are linked below. If you are a former UA student-athlete and would like to participate, please email me at email@example.com or message me on Twitter at @RKelapire!