Family support, sports connect Starlings
Long before Bubba Starling became a major-league baseball prospect, he was tracking down fly balls hit by his mother, Deb (Strack) Starling. Large family gatherings, usually revolving around a sporting activity, were routine in the yard outside the Starlings’ home in Gardner, Kan.
“Bubba was always energetic and would like to chase down any ball he could get to,” said Starling, a 1987 Baker University graduate. “Bubba and his cousins enjoyed playing a game of 500, where you compile points for catches, stopping one-hoppers and grounders.”
In June, Deb, and the rest of the family witnessed Bubba’s hard work come to fruition as the Kansas City Royals selected the three-sport standout fifth in the Major League Baseball draft. The Royals had never selected a prospect from the Kansas City area that high in the draft in franchise history.
At Gardner-Edgerton High School, Bubba starred in football, basketball and baseball. He signed to play quarterback at the University of Nebraska and reported to summer camp in Lincoln before agreeing to a $7.5 million signing bonus, spread over three years, with the Royals.
Bubba isn’t the only three-sport standout in the family. Deb competed in track, volleyball and softball at Baker after graduating from Gardner. She was an outside hitter in volleyball—just like her daughter Jamie, now a member of the Wildcat volleyball team—and a shortstop in softball.
“I came to Baker because Coach Charlie Richard gave me a scholarship to throw the discus for the track team,” said Deb, who received a business administration degree. “I eventually walked onto the volleyball and softball teams. It was fun to participate on all three teams. I was used to playing sports year-round.”
Other fond memories included assisting long-time football secretary Ava Cummings and working with Richard and assistant football coach Dan Harris.
“It was a blast,” Deb said. “All three were very special to work with every day. I strongly believe there’s no school in the United States that would be any better for a student than Baker. We love the community atmosphere.”
Deb and her husband, Jimbo, passed along their love for sports to their children. Jimbo played football and basketball and competed in track in high school at Wellsville. Their youngest child, Jill, is a sophomore and active in sports at Gardner-Edgerton, where Deb is a secretary at the high school.
“That’s the way it has always been in our family,” Deb said of her children remaining active in sports for all seasons. “We like to keep them busy and encourage them to work hard and do their best in the classroom. We enjoy getting our kids to all of their games and tournaments. We stayed busy running around to all of our children’s activities. I don’t know how we did it. But it has been all worthwhile. We have been supportive of all of our children in all their activities.”
Jamie, who participated in volleyball, basketball, track and softball in high school, remembers those backyard family gatherings and has witnessed Bubba reaching celebrity status.
“He has always been kind of a freak at sports,” Jamie said. “I knew he was different when he started dunking the basketball in the eighth grade. Competing is in our blood. There was never a family event in which we weren’t competing. Our parents have been extremely supportive and made a lot of sacrifices to allow us to play all those sports and help us get to where we are.”
Extremely supportive of her older sister, Bubba returned from his first professional baseball workouts in Arizona to attend the Baker volleyball tournament Sept. 9-10 on the Baldwin City campus. He will return to Surprise, Ariz., the last week of September to start playing games in the Arizona Instructional League.
Deb said the siblings are always supportive of each other. She wasn’t surprised her only son took time away from his busy schedule to watch his oldest sister play volleyball.
“They need to know that their family will be there for each other in the long run,” she said.
Passing on the Benefits of Sports
Jamie has aspirations of being an elementary education teacher and volleyball coach. She is inspired by her high school volleyball coach and longtime family friend Don Bechard, who passed away three years ago after a two-year battle with pleomorphic liposarcoma, a rare form of cancer.
“Fortunately, I was able to play for him my senior year, which was his last full season as a coach,” Jamie said. “I had admired how he got the most out of his players. I would love to teach and coach at a smaller school and really make an impact with the students.”
Before visiting with her brother between his trips to Arizona, Jamie reflected on her brother’s whirlwind summer. First there was the baseball draft, then the Cornhuskers’ football camp in Lincoln, Neb., and of course, the multimillion-dollar contract to sign moments before the Aug. 15 deadline.
Jamie will never forget joining a sea of Husker red at an autograph session at the football stadium in Lincoln. She slipped in a blue Royals cap for Bubba to sign.
“There were girls my age wanting to take their picture with him,” Jamie recalled incredulously. “I would only do that if it were Taylor Swift—not my brother. It doesn’t seem real. It’s crazy to think of my brother as a millionaire. He was a kid who had a dream. Not too many kids get to live out their dream, and he is living the dream.”