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Yankees Magazine, April 2011

 

Bubba Crosby: Back To His Roots

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Former Yankees center fielder finds post-baseball success in the family business

By Craig Tapper

The center fielder makes a mad dash for a routine fly ball to left field. The all-out sprint is unnecessary and so too is the superman dive that he attempts seconds later. The left fielder, standing still, easily corrals the ball as the center fielder belly flops onto the Yankee Stadium sod.

The center fielder is not trying to showboat. He’s not trying to be flashy. He’s just being Bubba Crosby.

Whether earning an athletic scholarship, completing his business degree or winning a spot on the Opening Day roster, the former Yankees center fielder, who donned the pinstripes from 2004 to 2006, knows success is in the effort.

Bubba’s father, Steve, implanted this work ethic and passion into his son’s mind from an early age. In 1980, Steve started the industrial grounds maintenance company Coastal Spray in Pasadena, Texas, with a single truck.

Over the course of the past three decades, Steve’s company — with the assistance of his sons Bubba, Tommy and David — has grown steadily.

“I remember the first 10 years of him trying to get this thing started and going,” said Bubba, who is now an integral member of the flourishing family business. “He was trying to be a father, the president of the Bellaire (Texas) Little League, and at the same time get up at 4 in the morning to do manual-labor type work. He did it.”

When Bubba retired from baseball in March of 2008, he joined Coastal Spray full-time, asserting the same work ethic he displayed during his time in pinstripes into his new vocation.

“I find it rewarding,” Bubba said. “Look at this company that my Dad started with his own two hands. It has provided all of us with education and food, and it’s providing very well for all of our families now.”

Today, the company has roughly 60 clients and nearly 100 employees. During the span of eight months in 2007, it enjoyed its largest growth spurt, doubling in size, and its biggest accounts include a Dow Chemical Company plant in Houston and ExxonMobil refineries in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Baytown, Texas; and Torrance, California.

In the future, the company may attempt to expand around the Mississippi River and in California, where it began working with the Torrance refinery in 2007.

Coastal Spray’s services include spray programs, forestry services, erosion and sediment control, and landscaping — missions focused on ridding areas of unwanted species.

“A mouse is a pest, a weed is a pest, a fungus is a pest, mold is a pest, and our cort has the capabilities of taking care of all those pests whether it be with herbicides, insecticides or fungicides,” Bubba said. “At this particular point of our company’s growth, we can now provide all those different services while before we were solely just dealing with weeds as pests.”

Bubba, who serves as the company’s new business development manager, is most closely involved in operations. From scheduling all of the different employees to actually hopping on a tractor and assisting with spraying when necessary, Bubba makes sure that the company's day-to-day operations run smoothly and effectively.

It is exactly the type of work he should be doing.

“He’s completely right where he feels comfortable in his niche as far as driving a truck, wearing a cowboy hat, sometimes being on a tractor,” said Julie Crosby, Bubba’s wife of just more than a year. “It fits him. He likes working with his hands and being outside, so it’s comfortable.”

In 2010, Bubba was heavily involved in the com pany’s expansion of its aquatic control venture, a program created to assist companies with the clear ing of invasive plant species in waterways. Coastal Spray invested in an airboat because the conventional propeller-driven craft was unable to navigate some areas, The airboats target invasive plant species such as giant salvinia and water hyacinth.

“I was hands-on with the whole airboat project, trying to figure out how to do it and the proper way to do the operation,” Bubba said. “It can be very dangerous because you’ve got a very big boat with a lot of horsepower. We wanted somebody who wasn’t go out there and get themselves killed.”

The was a success, and Coastal Spray is considering the further development of this branch of the business.

In general, expansion may seem like a rarity during a harsh economic climate, but the company has been particularly fortunate to have recent success.

“It’s a recession-proof business because vegetation doesn’t listen to what the economy is going to do,” Bubba said. “If there is sun and there is water, then it’s growing. We’ve had two great years.”

Before joining the company, baseball had been Bubba’s focus for nearly 30 years.

Bubba attended Bellaire High School, the same school that Chris Young of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chuck Knoblauch and Jose Cruz Jr. attended. After making the varsity team as a freshman and excelling as a sophomore, Bubba began to hear from college scouts, the Kansas City Royals and th Atlanta Braves.

“My dad really brought it down to earth,” Bubba said. “He stressed how important school was. It’s a degree. It’s something nobody can take away from you.”

Bubba received scholarship offers from Texas, Texas A&M, Houston, Oklahoma, Florida and Mississippi State. But, in the end, it was his local school of Rice that won the chase.

“I never would have been able to get into Rice on sheer academics because it was just too difficult to get into,” Bubba said. “For me to be able to get in there because of baseball was an opportunity. I didn’t know if I would ever go pro, but I could walk away with a Rice degree.”

Bubba excelled at Rice both academically and athletically, earning a degree in business and catapulting to a first-round selection of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1998 First-Year Player Draft.

After five years in the minors, Crosby made his big-league debut with the Dodgers in 2003, but it was his Yankees debut the following season that stands out as one of his career highlights.

Bubba arrived at spring training in 2004 with the intention of making himself known to Yankees manager Joe Torre. He took it a step further, hitting .385 with two home runs and 11 RBI in 39 spring at-bats. His performance garnered him a spot on the Opening Day roster.

“I made the club with five outfielders,” said Bubba, who keeps a copy of USA Today’s Opening Day roster from 2004. “You had Kenny Lofton, Ruben Sierra, [Gary] Sheffield, Bernie [Williams] and Hideki Matsui. Why do you need Bubba Crosby in the outfield? How I made it and how I spent as much time in the big leagues that year I don’t know.”

During the season, Bubba became a fan favorite in the Bronx, earning the acceptance of the faithful thanks to a combination of his passionate play and country-sounding name.

“I think they liked seeing a young kid come up,” Bubba said. “I was an underdog player, and I had a goofy redneck name in New York. I think they saw a kid who came out and played his heart out. That’s the way I walked on the field the first time I played, and that’s the way I finished my last game.”

The following September, after shuffling back and forth between Triple-A and the bigs for the better part of two seasons, Bubba achieved his greatest moment as a member of the Yankees.

On Sept. 19, the Yankees started the day trailing the Red Sox by 1Y games for the American League East lead. Bubba stepped to the plate in the ninth inning of a tie game against the Orioles.

“I was just looking to get on base and maybe try to steal second,” Bubba said. “I remember getting into that box and feeling really, really comfortable. I just remember seeing that ball like a volleyball.”

Bubba crushed the ball over the fence in right-center, propelling the Yankees to a 3-2 victory and etching his place in pinstripe history.

“It’s one of those things I still have dreams about,” Bubba said. “It was 55,000 screaming, passionate Yankees fans. It just does something to you. There are so many memories. Your brain some times goes nuts at night.”

Less than a year after his walk-off homer, Bubba’s big-league career was finished. He played 13 games for Louisville, Cincinnati’s Triple-A affiliate in 2007, but a shoulder injury shortened his season and kept him from catching on with Seattle in 2008. Instead of devoting himself to further arduous rehabilitation, Bubba decided to call it quits.

Some professional athletes balk at the decision to retire from the game, but Bubba does not rue his choice.

“I had been playing baseball since I was 4, and my whole life had been baseball,” Bubba said. “I felt like everybody has an end date; it’s just whether or not you picked the right one. I felt in my heart that this was the right decision that I made. That’s what gave me peace.”

His time in baseball taught him life lessons that continue to shape the way he handles himself in the business world.

“I learned to realize that if I had a bad game, tomorrow always came,” Bubba said. “It’s the same thing here. If we don’t get a contract, then another contract is going to come up for bid or renewal at some point. The sun is going to come back up tomorrow.”

Joining the family business also made for an easier transition.

“It was a little intimidating at first because you’re in the work environment,” Bubba said. “Showing up in nicer clothes and not in tennis shoes and workout stuff was a little different. Between my brother [Tommy] and my dad, they gave me my space a bit, and they were really good at slowly getting me into it.”

And now, three years later, Bubba is fully inte grated into the company and following in his father’s footsteps.

“From a little bitty age, he wanted to be like his dad,” Julie said. “He is doing what he is comfortable doing with people that he loves. Before Bubba came into [Coastal Spray], it was doubling in size and wouldn’t be able to stay in the family. [His dad] was going to need a partner, but now it can stay in the family. His dad can now be proud to pass the business on to his sons.”