This marks the 30th anniversary of USA TODAY recognizing the nation's top high school athletes. We are digging into the archives and checking in with ALL-USA honorees from the past three decades. Today, we catch up with 2003 ALL-USA selection Chris Lubanski of Kennedy-Kenrick (Norristown, Pa.), who after eight minor league seasons, is a college student and an associate scout for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Outfielder Chris Lubanski was an All-Star at every level in the minors but never got a chance to play in the majors, which is why he became a college freshman at Villanova last fall, nine years after becoming a professional baseball player.
"Looking back, going back to school wasn't such a hard choice," Lubanski said. "I did everything I could do and it just never worked out. I am proud of what I did and what I accomplished."
Lubanski was drafted fifth overall in the first round in 2003 by the Kansas City Royals. In 2004, he was a Midwest League (low Class A) All-Star with the Burlington Bees, after hitting .273 with nine homers. The next season, he was a California League (high Class A) All-Star with the High Desert Mavericks, hitting .301 with 28 homers and 116 RBI.
Called up to Class AA in 2006, he led the Texas League in triples and walks with the Wichita Wranglers. He continued to pound Texas League pitching in 2007, making the All-Star team, then getting a promotion to the Royals' Pacific Coast League AAA team in Omaha.
The next season, he got his first invite to a major league spring training camp but stayed in Omaha to start the season, hitting .242 with 15 homers.
In 2009, he hit .300 his first month in Omaha before tearing his hamstring. He came back for the last two months, but struggled, hitting .227 for the season.
"I came back in August, but it wasn't fully healed," Lubanski said. "It hurt so bad and I got a second opinion and they told me I needed surgery."
The Royals chose not to re-sign Lubanski following the season, but he showed his career wasn't over, hitting .293 with 17 homers and 57 RBI in 100 games with the Las Vegas 51s, the Toronto Blue Jays' PCL team. He made the league All-Star team, but about the time he might have been called up for a late-season run with the Jays, he tore an oblique muscle. He was released by the Jays and finished his career in 2011 with a short stint with the Philadelphia Phillies' AA team in Reading, Pa.
"You start thinking that maybe this isn't meant to happen," Lubanski said. "Every time I got really close to being called up, I got the injury bug. When I turned 26 (he's now 28), I weighed the pros and cons of continuing. I loved baseball, but I didn't want to be the 30-year-old guy who was still trying to make it in the minors. That's not the lifestyle I wanted. If I kept playing, I'm sure I would have eventually gotten an opportunity to play in the majors. The question would be would it be just a cup of coffee or a real chance?"
Last season, he coached Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (Philadelphia), leading the Blue Devils to a 14-6 record.
"I loved the coaching part," Lubanski said. "But the politics of amateur and youth sports isn't for me. I respect my high school coach so much more now. I saw him a few weeks ago and I told him, 'I don't know how you did it.' "
While he continues to pursue a degree, he's looking for other opportunities with major league clubs.
"I am definitely still a baseball fan," Lubanski said. "That will never change. What I do miss are the guys and being on the field with your buddies. You can't duplicate that in any other setting. Luckily, I made some great friends while playing. Very few people will get to experience what I did."