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Five years in Minor League led to home at Strube

CHICAGO — When Robert (Rob) Strube III was drafted by the Minnesota Twins baseball farm system in 1985, his namesake and grandfather, Robert Strube Sr., told him he had five years to make the Major League as a pitcher.

The grandson said that his strong-willed grandfather believed that if he didn’t make it as a big-time left-handed pitcher in five years, he would be more effective in the family business, Strube Celery & Vegetable Co., which is now located on the Chicago International Produce Market.

Five years after he was drafted, Rob Strube, now 46, finished “high A ball and hoped for a promotion that didn’t happen.” Thus, well-timed with his grandfather’s edict, he returned to the family business. His first task was to create a tomato department for the Strube Celery. Soon thereafter came the Florida tomato freeze of 1989. “I learned tomatoes fast,” he recalled.

Now serving as vice president and general manager of tomatoes, potatoes and onions for Strube Celery, he said “getting up at 1:30 a.m. doesn’t bother me. I’m here by 2:30. I finish by 12 or one” in the afternoon. When off work, “the phones are always ringing.”

Rob Strube pitched “for fun” in his freshman year at Division III Luther College in Decorah, IA, then sat out his sophomore year. When he came back in his junior year, he “pitched well” — well enough to be drafted by the Twins in the 16th round.

He left college after his junior year to pursue the baseball dream. “I promised my parents I would go back. I was one semester short of graduating when they called me.” He did return and completed his degree.

Meanwhile, he savored his days in the Minor League. “It was five years I wouldn’t have passed up.”

His first Twins team was in Elizabethtown, TN. “My rookie season was a culture shock. I lived on the outskirts of town, which were full of tobacco sheds. The lady I lived with loved her moonshine.”

He subsequently played in Kenosha, WI, and then spent two-and-a-half years playing in Visalia, CA. While there, Strube Celery “sent me to see a couple of shippers there. And, my dad would have shippers come see me play.” To this day, he said California shippers will approach him to talk about watching him play. As a result of his pitching days, “I know a lot of the California area now.”

Baseball took its toll. He had two shoulder tears. When he was playing in a softball league as a 30-year old, he popped a hip. As a result, “I had a hip replacement at 35. I had back surgery, too” because of baseball wear and tear.

He is six feet, six inches tall. He said he never weighed more than 200 pounds while playing Minor League Baseball.

Now Rob Strube buys season tickets for the Chicago Cubs, but his schedule allows him to go to only a few games. He watches as many Cubs games on television as he is able to.

Today he coaches his nephew’s Oakbrook [IL] Outlaws travel baseball team of 12- and 13-year-olds, and also coaches the Westchester [IL] Bandits team of 13-year-olds.