Interview: Former A’s Prospect Jeff Urlaub

Historically there are a good handful of Jewish baseball players who have gotten extremely close to the Bigs or even got to the Bigs and got hurt immediately. Guys like Jon Moscot, Jason Hirsh, and Justin Wayne (all TGR interviewees). Jeff Urlaub never got to the Show but he was as close as you can get. Urlaub battled injuries but is still around the game he loves and we are fortunate to have caught up with him to learn more.

 

 
1) Tell TGR about yourself.My name is Jeff Urlaub. I was born and raised in Arizona. I played baseball for a prestigious national high school program at Horizon High School. I was a 3 year Varsity letter winner and a State Champ my senior year of 2005. I played college baseball for 2 years (had Tommy John surgery as a sophomore) at Arizona State before transferring to to UNLV where I received my degree and played my last year of eligibility at Grand Canyon University. I was drafted 3 times in the MLB amateur draft. 2005 – 26th rd. Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 2008 – 48th rd Florida Marlins, 2010 – 30th rd by Oakland Athletics. I played 6 years in the A’s minor league systems reaching Triple-A. I participated in the prestigious Arizona Fall League twice pitching in the Championship Game my first year. 

2) How did you get your start in baseball?Ever since I can remember my parents always told me when I was really little I always had a baseball and/or a bat in my hand. My father taught me the game of baseball even before I could walk. I remember him telling me that in order for to me fall asleep as an infant a baseball game had to be on the TV in the background. I was never a kid that grew up on cartoons it was always just baseball. As I grew older he taught me so many important lessons that helped me both on the baseball field and off. He was my biggest fan and mentor and was always available to help me when I wanted. As a kid I naturally wanted to take after my dad. He played first base all the way through high school and I was determined to follow in his footsteps. The only difference was I am left handed so I had to do everything the opposite of what he taught me haha. So much of my baseball life and career I owe to my father for the sacrifices he made to help get me to the player I wanted to be.

3) What was being a part of the 1st Team Israel like?Being a part of the 1st Team Israel for me was one of the top 3 baseball moments and honors of my entire career. Growing up with my mother being Jewish and my father Christian my house always celebrated both holidays etc. My grandparents were both Jewish and I learned a lot especially from my grandfather. That year that I was a part of the 1st Team Israel holds a very special place in my heart. Right before traveling out to Florida to meet the team and get to work to prepare for the World Baseball Classic Qualifier my grandfather passed away. It was roughly 5 days before leaving to head out there. It was the perfect way to honor my grandfather as he supported me so much in baseball and being Jewish to honor him and play for the country of Israel was very special for me. As for the team, it was incredible. When I got out there and started to meet the other guys I saw a lot of familiar faces from that year playing against them in the minor leagues not knowing they were Jewish. I got to know a lot of these guys more in depth which helped build even stronger relationships and bonds with those guys for about 2 weeks. I can honestly say growing up I always wanted to play for Team USA because Israel didn’t have a team at that standpoint but once a team was created it was the best honor to play for YOUR country and wear your country’s name across your chest. It is a special feeling that not many people get to experience in their playing career. Everyone knows you play for the team and that is what’s across your chest but it’s is indescribable to play not only for your team but your country. I have my jersey that was signed by every player, coach, trainer, and front office person framed and hanging up in my man cave and it brings back so many good memories in such a short period of time. 

4) Did you want to play on the more recent team?This is an interesting question. Would I have loved to play on the more recent team? Absolutely no question about it. The kicker was I flat out couldn’t because injuries over the course of my career and what ultimately lead to my retirement. If I was healthy enough to do it I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. I will tell you that I made sure to stay up or wake up in the middle of the night to watch every single pitch of their games which made it so fun to watch. Being able to look back and put myself in their shoes and watch them have the success and all made it still very special to me. Majority of the guys that were on the more recent team I played with on the first team so it made it special for me and most of those guys I still keep in contact with this day. It was fun texting the guys congratulating them and getting an immediate response back after a game and whatnot. I cherish those relationships and friendships I made that no one can ever take from me.

5) Now that you are retired what are you up to?Nowadays I am currently coaching. I was an assistant back at my high school as the pitching coach for 2 years and just this past summer I was named the Varsity Head Coach. I am the second ever head coach at my high school that has been opened for year 39. The original coach was my coach when I played here and is nationally known. He works for USA baseball as well and compiled over 800 wins in his coaching career at one school. Lets just say I have big shoes to fill haha. On top of that I coach in the Alaska Summer Baseball League for college players as the pitching coach. I just finished my first summer up there and we won the championship for the third year in a row which was such a blast. I am excited to head back up next summer and work for championship number four.

6) Was it hard hanging up your jersey and calling it a career?This is a very difficult question. To answer it honestly I would say yes and no. Yes in the simple fact that being a Major Leaguer was my lifelong dream and to get to Triple-A one call away achieving that dream made it extremely difficult. Baseball has always and will always be the love of my life and my passion. This game truly is the greatest game in the world. The no part of the answer wasn’t nearly as hard because my arm was failing. Having 3 operations in a 4 year span made it tougher and tougher to get back. The game is brutal on the body and for some people it takes its toll quicker than others. Once drs told me that I could not be fixed and would have to play through the pain for as long as I could, I knew the end was near. I remember the day I retired it was one of the toughest and darkest places of my life. Sitting in front of your locker, cleaning it out for the very last time, taking off the cleats you’ve laced up for 25 years, putting on the uniform, grabbing your glove, etc one last time it put life into perspective. I considered playing baseball for a living a dream and never a day of work. I remember packing up my stuff for the final time balling my eyes out like a little boy. I knew the dream of being a Major Leaguer was over and I had to wake up and find my next calling in life. There is so much I miss about baseball from the locker room with the guys, the friendships and relationships I had built for 6 years, putting on the spikes and uniform, the adrenaline rush every time the phone rang in the bullpen and being told get ready you’re going in, to competing on the mound against the future of Major League Baseball. I once had a scout tell me that the day I was drafted I was only supposed to make it one year and then be released. Being a senior sign you have no leverage or job security so to speak. To hear that and then look at the reality of what I did and what I accomplished left me feeling very proud that I was able to do it. I never took one day for granted having baseball be my “job”. I still miss it but when I think about it, it doesn’t make me sad, it allows me to reflect on what an incredible run I had at it and proud to do what I did.

7) What was your Jewish upbringing like?My immediate family was never very religious. At a young age my parents told my sister and I that we were allowed to believe in what we wanted. There was never any pressure to pick one religion or the other. I found myself being extremely interested in the Jewish religion. I credit my grandfather for that. My great grandmother lived through the Holocaust which was remarkable. I was very blessed by my family and never felt forced to do anything. Ultimately, I felt that I was two religions. Jewish and Baseball. 

8) Whats next? Any goals in mind?

Whats next? Well since I made the transition from playing to coaching I developed a brand new passion and that is coaching. I love to coach and give back to these current kids what my coaches sacrificed and gave back to me. It is such a great feeling being able to share the stories and the knowledge of this game that I have to younger generations to now help and allow them to follow their dreams of being Major Leaguers. I love coaching because I can still compete just in a totally different facet. As for a goal, I would love to get back to professional baseball as a coach and see if I could make it to the Big Leagues as a coach. I have a ton of knowledge that I would love to be able to help and share with young minor league baseball players like I had when I played. If that isn’t a possibility I would love to coach at a major division one university. The other goal would be back in professional baseball as a scout. Any job that has baseball a part of it would be a dream come true.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s