PBL Profile: Stephen Hrabec
Posted November 15, 2020
Longtime Holden Blue Jays pitcher/catcher/manager, and the man the Powerline Baseball League currently calls Mr. President, Stephen Hrabec is our next PBL Profile. He is responsible for helping to turn the Holden Blue Jays into a perennial contender both with his on field play and with his managerial and front office talent. An original member of the Holden Blue Jays who rejoined the PBL in 2010, Hrabec was also instrumental in spearheading the team’s move to Vegreville.
You can read the website’s interview with President Hrabec from February here. Below, is Stephen Hrabec the player’s interview.
What was your baseball background prior to playing in the PBL?
I played my first seven or so years at Holden. When I was in my second year of PeeWee I played with Holden and the Vegreville Provincial team. After that Holden did not have a team so I played the rest of my minor ball with Vegreville.
When did you start playing the Powerline Baseball League and get involved with the Holden Blue Jays?
In 2009, after minor ball, I did not have a place to play. I was playing slo pitch in the Ryley league when I was encouraged mostly by my Gido to start a senior team out of Holden. That summer I did some recruiting and was able to convince enough players from the Holden, Vegreville, and Viking area to join the team. Art and Maury Micklich played a huge role in the process as well. I remember how welcoming the PBL was as they helped me through the process.
Hrabec on the hill for the 2012 Holden Blue Jays (July 12, 2012)
Do you remember your first game in the Powerline Baseball League?
I remember my first exhibition game against Leduc. Both teams were really excited to enjoy some local entertainment after the game. I think that’s why Leduc travelled so far for a meaningless game. Anyways, it was also the first time I had ever used a wood bat. In my first at bat I swung at the first fastball I saw and busted my bat. It was a huge eye-opener.
In our first league game, we played the Tofield Lakers. Our grizzled veteran, Pat Kawaliuk, who we absolutely loved, was getting a ribbing from us younger guys as a result of his age. I believe he was in his late 40s. Well he shut every one of us up when he hit a first-pitch curveball over the right-field fence. I will never forget that moment. Pat was the man. I’ll never forget that and we’ll never forget him.
What was that first year of Powerline Baseball League baseball like for you?
We had no idea what to expect. We had one player (Pat) who had played in the league prior to our first season. I think we surprised a lot of teams with our pitching, defence, and speed on the base paths. Personally, the most difficult aspect was adjusting to offspeed pitches.
How has the Powerline Baseball League change during your years in the league?
I think the most significant change is that all teams, for the most part, have nine actual baseball players. This has lead to more parity and over the past few years there have been four or five teams strong enough to win a championship. The coverage of the PBL has increased as well, thanks in part to the PBL website, Twitter account and radio stations such as Country 106.5, CFCW, and New Country 98.1.
Hrabec has been a steady presence for the Blue Jays behind the plate
Is there a specific game that come to mind as being memorable for you during your time in the Powerline Baseball League?
I’ll never forget the 2014 PBL Finals against Ryley. It was a crazy series where each game could’ve went either way. The same can be said for the 2017 series we had against Rosalind. Game 2 at Holden was probably the most exciting PBL game I have played. I can’t remember the score but it was up there and was highlighted by Zak Lang’s amazing avoidance of the catcher at home plate to score a crucial run to win us the game. Unfortunately Game 3 did not go our way but man it was still a blast now that I think about.
Was there a pitcher in the Powerline Baseball League that you perhaps dreaded facing?
Leduc had a bunch of guys that we could not touch. Steve Pahl was one back in the day. Ryan Walker threw a perfect game against us. But the guy I dreaded the most was Curt Stensrud. He was downright scary. We were all frightened of him. He was a force on the mound. We all miss him.
I’ve always hit Josh Banack. I just love when he’s on the mound. I just see the ball really well. He could probably say the same about me. Great guy.
An old school baseball player, there isn't a walk or hit by pitch that Hrabec won't fight for.
As a pitcher, was there a particular hitter that was always a tough out for you?
Dylan Solberg (Rebel Jesus) was the most difficult hitter to get out. The guy can flat out hit. And he would hit those high fly balls in the Ryley Ball Park that would just float over the fence.
What was the most memorable Holden Blue Jays playoff run like for you?
In the Blue Jays ten years, we have been to the Championship Series five times. Unfortunately, we are much like the 1990s Buffalo Bills of the PBL. We knew that we did not have much of a chance against Leduc in our first couple of years, but if it had not been for the aforementioned Rebel Jesus in 2014 (the guy was unbelievable) and a third base coaching mistake (me) in 2017 against Rosalind, we may be having a different conversation. I don’t really have a memorable moment other than a few first-round victories. The series against Ryley and Rosalind were fantastic, by the way. All I can say is that we are still extremely hungry and hope that eventually, things will go our way.
Was there a particular rivalry that you were involved in that was memorable and why was it so memorable?
We had some good ones with Ryley. We played them in playoffs a couple of seasons but the game I remember most was a regular-season game at Holden. We were down by a bunch early and it began to rain. Barry Truss was on the mound for the Rebels and was not happy that the umpire was not calling the game. We had the Friend boys on our side that night and they threw a few chirps over Ryley’s desire to quit and at the colour of a player’s cleats. Ryley, of course, did not back down. This led to a near brawl where about half of Ryley’s team rushed our dugout. Luckily both teams backed down and we were able to finish in peace. The great thing about that rivalry is that, other than Twitter, it was always put aside off of the ball diamond. We’ve had some fun times with the Ryley boys over the years. That is what I love about the PBL.
Are there any good rural baseball stories that you have heard or seen yourselves that have been memorable?
I loved Mike’s story about Milt Malick. Pat had told us many over the years and I remember watching Milt when I was a kid and couldn’t believe that he was still out there at the age he was. My guess is 80. Anyways, during the Blue Jays first couple of years, if we had difficulty finding a second umpire, we used to ask Milt to ump the bases and all he asked for in return was for a couple of cool drinks after the game. He did a fine job but the best part was when he wasn’t umpiring and would heckle the umpires, most of whom he had worked with in other games, after a questionable call. There were a couple of times where I thought he was going to get kicked out. He was such an intense character.
Hrabec with another quality at bat for the Blue Jays.
What was your favourite baseball field to play on?
I always loved playing at the Ryley Ball Park. Even though it took a powerful wind, it is the only place I’ve hit a home run. I’ll never forget that moment.
What were Powerline Baseball League tournaments like for you and the Holden Blue Jays?
The only PBL tournament I attended was the Ryley Sports Day tournament. Every year. We miss that tournament and still reminisce every so often. It was always fun because we’d have a huge group of friends come out for the infamous dance with DJ Lou Proctor. While I have two or three stories from each tournament, I would like to share two in particular.
The first was during our first or second year where we had to play an 8 a.m. tiebreaker on Sunday morning. I knew that there would be no way that all of our players would wake up in time for the game. Heck, I figured that some would still be partying. So I made the managerial decision to set up our tents in left field. Luckily the plan worked. We woke up to the cracking of mitts in right field, quickly took down our tents and were ready for the first pitch. If I recall correctly, I believe we actually won that game.
The second story a little crazier and was about three or four years ago. Being a young team, we’ve always had difficulty getting to bed at tournaments. We had played our traditional Friday night game against Ryley and our next game was not until noon on Saturday. We only had 9 players for that game and I had to leave for the city about an hour before to attend a course for my master’s degree. I had been up for about an hour when our all-star first basemen, Zak Lang, rolled into the trailer to go to bed. It was 10:30 a.m.! He said that he was going for a quick cat nap. So at 11:00, right before I had to leave, I went in to wake him up. He refused to get up and I dragged him out by his feet on two separate occassions but each time he went back to bed. I believe that he was still in his gear as well. (This was ordinary for Zak during tournaments. He would wear his gear the entire weekend without changing). Eventually, I gave up because I had to leave. We would have to begin the game with 8 players. Now here’s the best part of the story. I drove right back to Ryley after my course and asked how the game went. Without telling me the score, the boys explained that while waiting for the Beaumont-Leduc game to end, they recruited a guy from Beaumont to play first base. They did not have an extra jersey so they gave him Zak’s #8. Well it just so happened that Zak’s mom had decided to make the trek from Vegreville to enjoy a nice afternoon of ball. Needless to say, she was not impressed when she saw the Beaumont guy jog out to first base with Lang on the back of his jersey. Thankfully Zak made it to the dance that night.
A reliable pitcher on the hill for the Blue Jays, Hrabec is no strager to getting out of tough spots and starting big games.
Any final comments about your time in the Powerline Baseball League?
When I first started the Holden Blue Jays, I had no idea of the profound influence the team would have on my life. It sounds silly, but the team has given me the chance to enjoy time with some of my best friends that I would not have had otherwise. I’ve developed many friendships and connections with people throughout the league and I am truly grateful for it. Players joke about the PBL but it really is a great league and there are some talented baseball players.
A big thank you to Steve for taking the time this off season to answer some questions for us. Everyone is looking forward to Steve’s leadership with the Powerline Baseball League in 2021 and beyond.
We are looking at getting back to our regular scheduled PBL Profile Series and are looking for some current or former players and managers who would be willing to share some stories and talk some baseball. If you would be interested or if you know of someone who would be fantastic to hear from, please let us know by sending us a message on Twitter.