Robert Klinchock missed the most important phone call of his life while working outside at Chartiers Country Club.
When he returned to the clubhouse June 5, the Mt. Lebanon graduate was delighted to learn the details of a conversation the Detroit Tigers had with his father, Joe, who has been the head golf professional at CCC since 1997.
“He was so energized,” Klinchock recalled of his father.
“‘You did it. You got drafted,’” he added about what the elder Klinchock told him. “It was amazing.”
Klinchock could not have picked a better person to relay such a life-altering message. That he is now a professional baseball player as a result of his selection in the 35th round of the MLB Amatuer Draft correlates to the son-father bond forged more than two decades ago. The pair started playing when Klinchock turned four. They caught in the backyard for hours. Eventually the elder Klinchock caught his son’s bullpens and batting practice. They fielded many a ground ball together.
“That’s where it all started,” said the 22-year-old son of MaryAnne Klinchock. “My dad kept practicing with me every day. He kept me focused. He wasn’t just a great dad, but he’s a great human being. He taught me so much.”
Klinchock certainly learned his work ethic from his father, who was an NCAA All-American in golf, an athletic Hall of Fame inductee at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a tour pro having competed in two PGA events.
That characteristic, along with Klinchock’s determination, enabled him to hone his skills at Mt. Lebanon High School. A three-year letterwinner, he helped the Blue Devils to three playoff appearances, two WPIAL quarterfinal appearances and two section championships. He played first base, the outfield and pitched during his tenure with the Blue Devils.
Mt. Lebanon head coach Patt McCloskey said Klinchock’s work ethic, determination and passion propelled him to the big leagues.
McCloskey said Klinchock is a special player.
“First of all,” McCloskey said, “Robert’s had a really dedicated work ethic. He’s not where he is now because of luck. He has been absolutely grinding the last eight years. He totally deserves this opportunity.
“Secondly, Robert was one of the most competitive kids I have ever coached. He didn’t turn his determination on and off in between practices and games. He was locked in at everything he did.
“Finally, and I believe most importantly, Robert was one of those kids that enjoyed every second of every aspect of baseball. Whether we were playing a simulated game in the cage or playing in the WPIAL quarterfinals, he had the exact same amount of enthusiasm and fun. I’m so glad he continued his baseball career after high school and now has a chance to further it once again. He’s able to work so hard because he enjoys the experience of baseball so much.”
For as long as he can remember, Klinchock attended baseball games. He relished watching the Pirates play and envisioned playing at PNC Park.
“Being a professional was my dream as a child,” he said. “I watched the Pirates and I wanted to play for them, but I’m just glad to be playing professional baseball. It’s something that I have been working hard at for almost 20 years. It’s always been my goal.”
After a successful career at Shenandoah University, especially a stellar 2019 season, the goal became more realistic. Klinchock finished his collegiate career with a 15-12 record and 141 strikeouts in 201 innings. This season, the co-captain earned Old Dominion All-Conference all-tournament honors and led the Hornets to their first-ever NCAA Division III Super Regional. Klinchock tossed three consecutive complete games and consecutive shutouts as the Hornets dispatched Roanoke in May during the conference tournament. Shenandoah finished 35-11 overall.
“Obviously, Coach McCloskey and his dad (Ed) did a fantastic job with me while I played at Mt. Lebanon,” Klinchock said. “They did a superb job, but I was also playing other positions. In college I was just a pitcher and playing at Shenandoah was big. I was fortunate to play with two others that got drafted as well and that helped because we fed off each other. I also had a great coach that pushed me for four years to get better.”
Under Shenandoah manager Kevin Anderson, Klinchock honed his pitches. While clocked at 91 mph, his fastball typically ranges between 88-89. His change-up and slider have improved to the point that they are his go-to pitches for punch-outs and weak ground balls to the infield.
“I’m making better pitches,” he said, “but I have to improve. Obviously in college, you can get away with mistakes but in pro ball you have got to find a way to get guys out. My goals are to work harder and get better.”
While Klinchock hopes to work his way into the starting rotation, he said he will do whatever is asked of him, even come out of the bullpen, as he begins his career. Klinchock left Mt. Lebanon June 10 and reported to the Tigers’ spring training home in Lakeland, Fla., for assignment to one of its minor league affiliates. The Tigers have two Gulf Coast League Rookie teams in Florida. Klinchock will then travel to New England to compete in the short season for the Class A Connecticut Tigers.
“I can’t get too far ahead of myself,” he said regarding a target date to reach the Major Leagues. “All I can do is take it one pitch at a time. One game at a time. And keep on grinding.
“Obviously being a 35th round draft pick it is going to be hard, but nothing is going to stop me from trying.”
Effort may be exactly what Detroit expects and could be Klinchock’s secret weapon when decisions are made regarding his prospects. While he said he has no delusions about how competitive Klinchock’s new level of baseball is, McCloskey believes he has those intangible to achieve.
“No matter what, he can now say that he is a professional baseball player. He has accomplished the ultimate individual goal and earned an opportunity to move on to the most elite level and try to make it even further,” McCloskey said.
“I think Robert is mentally tough enough and dedicated enough to fight his way through any adversity and to make the most of the opportunities that he’s given.”