The dream of pitching in the majors never ended for Brady Feigl, but then again, it never had much of a chance to begin. Not after the handful of scouts that appeared his freshman year of college were gone following shoulder surgery that forced him to miss his entire junior season. Not after he began working at a golf course and left a baseball untouched for a year.
But here we are, just one year later, and Feigl’s dream is more than that. It’s now a reality. Even if it still feels like he’s dreaming. A year after working as a high school baseball coach and on a golf course, Feigl was invited to the Atlanta Braves major league camp, drew the attention of a Braves legend and made three appearances without allowing a run before being sent to Minor League camp on Monday.
Back up for a second, or five years rather, because that’s where the story really starts.
Brady Feigl was a freshman left-handed starter from Old Mill High School, now pitching for Mount St. Mary’s in Maryland. Scouts trickled in to see Feigl here and there, likely turned on by his 69 strikeouts in 62.1 innings. But he finished the year with an ERA of 6.64 in 16 appearances. He followed that up with a disappointing sophomore campaign when he finished 2-7 with an 8.29 ERA.
The season ended even worse.
Feigl missed the last four starts of the season after tearing the labrum in his throwing shoulder. After trying to rehab the shoulder, it reached the point that he couldn’t throw anymore. Surgery was the next option, which resulted in the loss of his entire junior season.
When Feigl returned for his senior year, a few of those scouts did as well. But they vanished after Feigl failed to get back to the 93 mph velocity he previously showed. His senior season ended after posting a 2-5 record with a 4.50 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 46 innings. It was likely his baseball career finished with it as well. At least the one he used to dream of.
Feigl went undrafted. Mounted with student loans and a car payment, among other bills, his parents told him to find a job. Off to the golf course went Feigl, as well as latching on at St. Mary’s high school as the varsity pitching coach in Annapolis.
Three years later, Feigl reflects on his injury and his time away from baseball while sitting in the Wide World of Sports restaurant inside the facility where the Atlanta Braves play their spring training games, a prelude to the story being revealed.
“I came back too soon,” he said, sitting in the corner of the room with a bent-brim hat covering most of his eyes. “I was never really back to what I was. It’s an injury that takes a year-and-a-half, sometimes two years, to actually recover from. I thought it might’ve been over.”
‘It’, of course, is that chance of playing in the Major Leagues. But that doesn’t mean his baseball career was over.
“The head coach of the high school team asked if I wanted to play on his men’s (baseball) league team,” Feigl explained. “I hadn’t picked up a baseball for a year, but nobody could touch me. They definitely didn’t see it coming.”
And suddenly, the worst thing that happened to Feigl turned out to possibly be the best.
“It was a true test to see how my arm felt,” he said. “It felt like it was finally back, but it was good to actually enjoy baseball again. Surgery brought me back down to Earth. Baseball is not the only thing that’s out there. You can’t play your whole life.”
Guys on the team told him he was back, but he didn’t really think much of it. The guys explained that he had to find a tryout and give it another shot. He found that shot in Danville at an open tryout, where scouts told him that they liked him but thought he still had arm problems.
It wasn’t for another month that Feigl had the shot that changed his life.
Back at school for an alumni golf outing, the head coach reached out to him and invited him to the Mount St. Mary’s Pro Day. He left there feeling the same as he did after his previous tryout. This one worked out a little better.
“I wasn’t expecting much. The Nationals scout reached out to me and said they were interested, but it was the Braves that called and said they wanted to offer me a spring training deal.”
He replied ‘alright’, leaving the Braves on the other end of the phone to ask, “is that a yes?”
Yes, yes it was. But if you book a family vacation for a weekend at Disney World, you’re guaranteed a longer stay in Orlando than Feigl. A spring training contract is a day-to-day thing. He could’ve shown up on Monday and been sent back home by Wednesday. It’s the true day-to-day contract.
“There is always pressure involved, but I was going to give it my all and if it was good enough, great,” he said. “If it’s not, it’s not.”
Weeks after week, Feigl kept surviving cuts. Feigl not only made the cut for the Braves organization, but he was sent to Single-A Rome rather than the expected extended spring training or rookie ball. After 25 appearances and a 3.50 ERA, Feigl was promoted to High-A Lynchburg. He posted an even-better 2.05 ERA there.
“It’s all the same game, 60-feet,6-inches,” he said. “Big league guy or Low-A guy, it’s the same game. I just said to myself ‘stay within yourself and pitch how you can pitch’.
Feigl surprised many, but the biggest surprise was what came next.
Atlanta Braves’ President John Schuerholz on the phone. Inviting Brady Feigl to Major League spring training.
“I knew I had good stuff, but I definitely wasn’t expecting a call to go to big league camp. John Schuerholz called me early January telling me camp was February 20th. I didn’t really say anything. He has to ask if I was still on the phone. I knew I had a decent year, but no I had no intention of expecting that call.”
After wiping his eyes and realizing he was awake, Feigl just went out and did his job.
“I’m always a guy who is going to work hard,” he said. “You can’t get lazy in this game with all the guys below and above you. You constantly have to be working hard or people are going to catch up and pass you.
“It’s the highest stage in baseball, and I want to prove that I belong and that they made the right decision inviting me to camp.”
Although he was sent down to minor league camp, the Braves are probably satisfied with their decision. Feigl faced 11 batters in three innings of work, allowing two hits, striking out four and walking none. He features a fastball that ranges 90-93, a curve ball, change-up and a slider and cutter that “need a lot of work, as do all of my other pitches.”
They’ve worked enough to gather the attention from legendary manager Bobby Cox, who said Feigl was an arm to watch in camp. He doesn’t point out many, but Cox’s resume isn’t too bad–guys like Jonny Venters, Billy Wagner and Craig Kimbrel to name a few that stood out to him in the past.
“Can’t even put it into words, really,” Feigl said, reacting to Cox’s comments. “I read the article and it sent chills down my spine. Never would I have thought anyone would talk about me. I came from nowhere really and people are still trying to figure out who I am.”
People don’t know him–proven by the total amount of zero who came up to us during the interview–but they will. He’s 24 with just one year of professional baseball experience, but his arm and his head are both still young. He never had a pitching coach before last season, and the way he sees it, he only had two full years in college. His senior season was more of a rehab assignment than anything.
He says he didn’t even know what a bullpen was, or at least experience one, until he reached college. But the bullpen life is for him. After everything he went through to get to this point, it’ll take more than a bad outing to knock him down now. Guys like Donnie Veal and Jason Grilli have been a big help to him on the mental side of the game.
He doesn’t know where he’ll start or end this season at. He doesn’t care either.
“To be honest, as long as I’m playing baseball I’ll be happy,” he said. “Wherever they put me, I’ll believe that’s where I belong. I’ll work my butt off to get better in every aspect and try to turn heads.”
Heads are already turned, and they’re the heads of pretty important people. At this rate, it won’t be long until many others follow. With bullpen lefty James Russell struggling this spring against left-handed hitters, as he did last season, the spot for a lefty specialist could open up sooner rather than later.
“It all comes down to what you do on the field and how you perform,” he said. “I always liked the underdog stories. Now, I’m just trying to go about my business and create my own.”