On the Road: Frisco's Ambassador of Fun

Michael 'Grubes' Gruber evolves into unlikely ballpark celebrity

Michael "Grubes" Gruber, man of many bobbleheads, throws a ceremonial first pitch on April 20 at Dr Pepper Ballpark. (Photo: Lance Carter)

By Benjamin Hill / MiLB.com | April 28, 2017 10:00 AM ET

FRISCO, Texas -- At Dr Pepper ballpark, home of the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders, Thirsty Thursday is also "Groovy Grubesday."

It just rolls right off the tongue.

Groovy Grubesday is an homage to Michael "Grubes" Gruber, a local sports radio cult celebrity, social media instigator and, now, the RoughRiders' "Ambassador of Fun." The team has elevated Grubes to new heights over the past three seasons, branding their Thursday home games around his presence while distributing increasingly outlandish bobbleheads bearing his likeness. Offerings this season include "Centaur Grubes" and "Grubes Riding a Unicorn."

"I got my chance and I just ran with it," said Grubes on a recent Thursday night at the suburban Dallas venue. "My life makes no sense." 

Grubes is 31 and his "chance" occurred approximately half a lifetime ago. At 16, he secured an internship with Dallas sports talk radio station, 1310 The Ticket. That opportunity evolved into a part-time job, and at 21, he landed a full-time position as board operator for The Hardline, the station's top-rated afternoon drive-time show. 

"As the board operator, the primary responsibility was playing the commercials, making sure breaks hit on time and all that," he said. "But at The Ticket, they very much encourage the playing of drops. You know, sound effects and then taking sound bites from the host out of context. Just having fun with it and splicing things together. So I made a name for myself doing that.

"I got this weird reputation as, like, a mascot. For whatever reason people kind of gravitated toward me."

His formidable Twitter presence -- some 39,000 followers while firing out more than 118,000 tweets -- is proof of that.

Grubes left The Ticket five years ago and is now employed by the NHL's Dallas Stars (as "music director and DJ") and Fox Sports Southwest ("audio work for the studio shows") while also doing what he describes as "all sorts of other random things around town."

When it comes to the "random things" Grubes has been up to, his regular presence at RoughRiders games tops the list. 

2017 Road Trip

"It's a weird story, at least to me," he said. "Myself and [RoughRiders] owner Chuck Greenberg had been following each other [on Twitter] for a couple years. Chuck took a liking to it, and we ran into each other a couple months before he took ownership of the team. He starts telling me all this stuff about how he wants to use Thursday nights as the fulcrum. If we can bring more people in on Thursday nights, then hopefully it will trickle down to where more people come on Wednesdays, then on Tuesdays, then on Mondays.

"Then Chuck says, 'I was thinking that maybe we do this thing where we give you the keys to the stadium. You just have your run of the place, and get to do all sorts of silly stuff to promote the team.' This was the first time I met him, so I'm thinking to myself, 'OK, I'm being pranked by these guys on another radio station, 'The Fan.' I was thinking my buddies Ben [Rogers] and 'Skin' [Jeff Wade] were pranking me somehow, because they're buddies with Chuck and I've known them forever."

Greenberg's Grubes-based vision was no joke, and "Groovy Grubesdays" was born in 2015.

Tweet from @RidersBaseball: Thirsty Thursday meets Groovy Grubesday! Thursdays are gonna have a @tweetgrubes vibe! http://t.co/df4jTtA7mA pic.twitter.com/90HXpvCk5g

"They throw me on camera way too much for somebody with my looks," Grubes said. "I just try to have a good time. Promote our Lazy River [swimming pool beyond the right-field fence] and try to promote all of the different giveaways that we do, all the blue-light specials, anything I can do to encourage people to have a good time. Which doesn't take much, thankfully."

As Grubes is promoting the RoughRiders, the team is promoting him.

"Last year, they did a couple bobbleheads of me -- one of me with my arms up cheering, then another one of me lying on the ground. Like George Costanza on the bear rug, essentially," he said. "They also gave away a life-size version of my bobblehead last year. From what I understand, the people who won it got cold feet and didn't want a life-size Grubes bobblehead in their house 24/7, and so I guess they donated it back to the team."

Tweet from @RidersBaseball: #ICYMI: RT 2 WIN 1 @tweetgrubes #Bobblehead! Join us at the Lazy River #PoolParty tonight 2! https://t.co/6NWN1mmo8W pic.twitter.com/umdI1qnQvl

That oversized bobblehead is languishing in a ballpark storage room. Asked if he wanted it, Grubes said "Lord, no" -- a reaction that illuminates a larger point: Despite his larger-than-life, John Belushi-in-Animal House-persona, he comes across in conversation as a soft-spoken, self-deprecating individual.

"I've just done whatever people ask me to and never said 'no,'" he said. "Even if I'm not doing something in my comfort zone, because if I had my druthers I'd just be sitting at home watching TV all day. But getting to do the things I do, it's impossible to not enjoy it. So I might as well have some fun with it, might as well put myself out there. And at this point I don't have a whole lot of shame. Once you get past that, then life is easy, man."

True to form, Grubes then offered up a shameless plug.

"Come out to RoughRiders games. Follow @RidersBaseball. Follow @TweetGrubes. Actually, don't do that. But do all the other things I said to do. I love all of you, RoughRiders fans." 

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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