When baseball pitcher Randy Dobnak was first called up to the major leagues by the Minnesota Twins in 2019, it marked a nearly unheard of rise for a player once undrafted out of college who was driving for Uber and Lyft on the side to earn extra cash while chasing his MLB dreams just a few years ago.
Now, it turns out, that huge achievement was just the beginning for the 26-year-old Dobnak, who recently agreed to a five-year contract extension with the Twins that's worth at least $9.25 million, ESPN reported on Sunday.
However, the deal could end up being worth even more.
The right-handed pitcher's new contract also includes a series of team options (where the Twins could later opt to extend the contract even longer) and incentive bonuses that could push the value of the contract to nearly $30 million over eight seasons if Dobnak meets various conditions, from pitching a certain number of innings to making All-Star teams or winning other performance-based awards, according to Fox Sports.
An unlikely path to MLB
Years before he would land an MLB deal worth millions, Dobnak was just another college baseball player hoping for a shot at realizing his major league dream.
Dobnak pitched for four years in college at Alderson Broaddus University, a small Division II school in West Virginia. He'd hoped to eventually pitch in the major leagues, and he had some interest from MLB scouts, but it didn't pan out.
"I talked to a few different teams — six or seven — and the [Toronto] Blue Jays followed me for about three years" during his college career, he said on a 2019 episode of the "Scoop" podcast. "But nobody ever came to see me play. Every time they would plan on it, we'd either get rained out or snowed out."
After graduation, Dobnak joined the United Shore Professional Baseball League (USPBL), a four-team independent league based in Michigan, for the 2017 season. He was making about $700 a month.
While at USPBL, Dobnak decided he'd spend one more year chasing his MLB dream before looking for a different career, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (Dobnak had earned an accounting degree in college.)
"If nothing happens, I'll move on with my life," he said he told himself.
But after pitching just six games for the USPBL, scouts for the Twins were impressed enough that the team gave him a minor-league deal that paid him $500 upfront during the 2017 season.
Few USPBL players end up catching on with MLB clubs. In fact, while roughly 38 players from the independent league have received minor league contracts from MLB clubs, Dobnak is the first and only of those players to actually play at the highest level of the major leagues, according to The Detroit News.
Dubnak pitched his way through the Twins' minor league system for a few seasons, earning minor league wages that are relatively low compared to what most MLB players earn. Players in the lowest levels of the minors, where Dobnak started, earn about $1,100 per month, on average.
During his time in the minor leagues, Dobnak started driving for Uber and Lyft in order to make extra cash to help support himself and his fiance (they were married in 2019). Dobnak's LinkedIn profile (which lists his current profession as "Ball Thrower" for the Twins) notes that he drove for the ride-sharing start-ups between 2017 and 2019.
The pitcher even boasted about his top-notch ratings as an Uber driver. "I have all five star [reviews] except for one," Dobnak told MLB.com in 2019. "I have one four-star. I'm hoping it was a mistake. I don't remember doing anything bad."
Dobnak was promoted all the way to the Twins' Triple-A team, the level closest to the majors, by 2019.
That August, he earned an MLB call-up and pitched four scoreless innings in relief against the Cleveland Indians in his debut.
Dobnak even managed to start a playoff game for the Twins in October 2019 against the New York Yankees — a game where he ended up taking the loss. But Dobnak has pitched to an impressive 3.12 ERA over 19 MLB appearances, so far. And he was particularly impressive for the Twins in this year's spring training, giving up only one run in more than 15 innings pitched while striking out 19 batters.
That performance helped earn Dobnak his new contract and a spot on the Twins' opening day roster as a relief pitcher for the first time in his career.
"Obviously, it's kind of something you grow up thinking about," Dobnak told MLB.com. "One thing is to be a big leaguer, and the next thing is like, 'Oh, I want to be on the opening day roster when they introduce everybody.' Especially this year, with fans [able to attend games], that [will] be pretty cool."
Meanwhile, Dobnak's new contract represents a major pay raise and a fair amount of job security for the pitcher, who has so far earned just under $300,000 over the course of his brief MLB career, according to sports salaries tracker Spotrac.
His salary will be $700,000 for the upcoming MLB season, which begins Thursday, and that number will grow over the course of the contract, hitting $3 million for the 2025 season.