Crim: Pransky’s baseball journey takes him from coach to scout to author

Pranksy and Rabe

Josh Rabe, a former Quincy University All-American outfielder and currently the school's athletic director, sits next to Jim Pransky, right, during a signing for Pransky's book "Josh and Josh: Small Towns, Big Leagues" about a decade ago. | Submitted photo

QUINCY — Jim Pransky grew up in a secluded, rural area in northwest Pennsylvania near the New York border. The closest town was two miles away and few other kids were around.

So, he threw baseballs at a pitch-back, listened to Yankees games on a transistor radio and voraciously read fictional sports series books by Clair Bee and Wilfred McCormick, following the exploits of Bee’s Chip Hilton and McCormick’s Bronc Burnett.

Little did he know he would one day follow in their footsteps.

“Everybody thinks about playing in the big leagues and then finds out that’s not happening,” he said.

Pransky instead chose to coach. He spent two seasons as the head coach at St. Bonaventure, another as an assistant at George Washington University and three more (1989-91) as head coach at Quincy University.

He also worked for the Houston Astros as a media liaison during spring training for a couple of years in between coaching stints.

“I met some scouts and talked a lot of baseball,” he said of his time in Florida. “I just observed and learned. I thought to myself, ‘Gee, this would be fun.’ ”

Months after leaving QU, Pransky followed through and began a 25-year career as a scout for five Major League Baseball organizations — the Astros, Athletics, Rays, Reds and Rockies.

Along the way he returned to the storytelling of his youth. Drawing from his experiences from Little League to the majors, he parlayed his love for the game into another career as an author, writing baseball-related short stories for online publications, then several young adult novels with baseball as the backdrop.

Pransky, now 68 and retired from baseball, lives in Davenport, Iowa. He has 12 published books to his credit, with another on the way. In addition to his fictional series, he has written four biographies on major-league players he knew from either scouting or coaching.

“I started doing some writing in my fifth or sixth year of scouting,” he said. “I was on the road and in hotels so much, and in the winter, I was home and didn’t want to travel. I had some time on my hands. I started writing fictional series books, the kind I read when I was a kid. I never knew if I would get farther than one.”

His third book, which appeared a decade ago, is of particular interest. “Josh and Josh: Small Towns, Big Leagues” is about two former QU teammates, Josh Rabe and Josh Kinney, who defied the odds to reach the major leagues.

“We have enough Derek Jeter books,” Pransky said. “I like to write about guys nobody else would ever write about. Sometimes it’s the lesser-known guys who have great stories.”

Pransky met Rabe and Kinney while scouting them at QU – the same place he was lured a decade earlier by Sherrill Hanks to become the school’s first full-time head coach.

QU, then playing an independent schedule with no scholarships, had endured six consecutive losing seasons. The Hawks reversed course by winning 25 games in each of Pransky’s final two seasons before he turned over the reins to assistant coach Pat Atwell. QU has made 11 NCAA tournament appearances since.

“Quincy is a great baseball town with great history — Jim Finigan, the Tappes, the minor league teams,” he said.

“I had a baseball card of (former Yankee) Tony Kubek. When they took me out to the stadium, I remember walking out to the shortstop position and thinking to myself, ‘Kubek played here.’ I loved the history of it.”

Rabe, a multi-sport standout at Mendon Unity High School, was selected by Minnesota in the 11th round of the 2000 draft. An outfielder, he spent six full seasons in the minors before being called up to the Twins in July 2006.

He appeared in 24 games that season and 14 the next before shoulder and back injuries derailed his career. He later spent 11 seasons as the QU baseball coach and is now the school’s athletic director.

Pransky, then scouting for the A’s, had met with Rabe after watching him during his junior season and being impressed with his bat speed.

“You don’t want to lead anybody on, but I told him if he kept doing what he was doing and kept progressing, there’s a good chance he’ll be drafted,” Pransky said. “He looked at me and his eyes got so big. It wasn’t that he was naïve; it’s just that nobody had ever sat down and talked with him.”

Pransky pushed for the A’s to draft Rabe, but the team hesitated because none of the other scouts had seen him play. He believes Oakland would have eventually selected Rabe had Minnesota not.

“Minnesota was so deep in the outfield. Had he been in another organization, he would have gotten up faster,” Pransky said.

Their paths often crossed later when Pransky was scouting Triple A games and Rabe was stuck in Rochester for parts of five seasons, hoping for a shot with the Twins.

“A lot of guys would have walked away, but he didn’t. He told me, ‘I’ve been at it this long, I can’t quit,’ ” Pransky said. “I got a call (in 2006) during the third inning of a Midwest League game I was scouting. It was Josh telling me he was going to the big leagues.”

Kinney grew up 10 miles from Pransky’s hometown in northwest Pennsylvania. Pransky worked him out before the 2001 draft in a session that was moved to QU’s North Campus gym because of pouring rain.

“I didn’t see him as a prospect,” Pransky said. “He maybe topped out at 89 (mph). He didn’t have the breaking ball he had in the big leagues. He threw strikes and was competitive as hell. I thought he was a guy who could at least play a few years in the minors, which is all you can hope for.”

Pransky tells how Kinney had his car packed and ready to return home after the season when Atwell urged him to go to the River City Rascals in the independent Frontier League, where he caught the attention of Quincyan and St. Louis scout Scott Melvin.

Two weeks later, with the Cardinals short on minor league pitchers, the club purchased his contract from the Rascals.

“Scotty took him to Kelly’s and had a prime rib sandwich,” Pransky said. “He was literally signed for a prime rib sandwich.”

Instead of being a pitcher merely holding a roster spot for a couple of seasons, Kinney developed a nasty slider and went from the low minors to Triple A.

The Cardinals called him up in July 2006 and he pitched 61/3 innings of scoreless relief in a memorable postseason to help the Redbirds advance to the World Series and defeat Detroit. He appeared in two World Series games.

“In my 25 years of scouting, Kinney was the best pure scouting story there was,” Pransky said. “Going from undrafted to making the big leagues to earning a World Series ring. I could have written about him in one of my fictional books.”

As it often is, fame proved fleeting. Kinney was sidelined the following spring with an elbow injury and didn’t pitch in the majors again until 2011 with the White Sox. His 35 appearances the next season with Seattle were his last.

To Pransky, though, the ending wasn’t as important as the journey.

“Here’s two guys who did phenomenally well for their draft standing,” he said. “They made it because they never backed down, never quit, and kept working to get the most out of their abilities. I think it’s something kids should read, parents should read. Getting to the big leagues is tough.”

Pransky plans to continue turning his experiences into stories. He believes the latest yet-to-be-released book, “a real-life thing,” is his best yet. In the past few years, he has branched out to produce novelettes, short stories and essays.

“I’m not doing it for financial reasons, although it’s OK to sell a book,” Pransky said. “I never said I’m a good author. I pick subject areas I think people will enjoy. I like to do things that have a lot of meaning to me. Hopefully, I can do a few more.”

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