Lots of kids grow up dreaming of being a major league baseball player. But playing baseball for your home country in the Olympics?
River Falls’ native JP Feyereisen has the opportunity to do both next summer.
Feyereisen, a 16th-round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians in the 2014 Major League Baseball draft, just completed his sixth season of minor league ball and his third with the New York Yankees Triple-A affiliate Scranton/Wilkes Barre Railriders. He was having lunch the Friday before Labor Day before the Railriders game against the Buffalo Bison when his phone rang.
“It was Paul Seiler, the CEO of USA Baseball,” Feyereisen said. “He said, how would you like to be one of the 28 men to play for Team USA this offseason? And I said absolutely!”
Feyereisen and Team USA will begin Olympic qualifying at the Premier 12 Tournament in Mexico Oct. 28-Nov. 1 against national teams from the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Holland. The top two teams will move on to Tokyo, for a six-team round-robin ending with the top two teams playing for a gold medal and the third and fourth place teams playing for bronze. The champion will automatically qualify for the six-team Olympic Baseball Tournament in Tokyo July 29-Aug. 8, 2020. The team will be managed by former New York Yankee and Miami Marlins manager Joe Girardi.
But that was just the first of two potential life-changing phone calls Feyereisen received over Labor Day weekend.
“Sunday we had a day game at 1:00,” Feyereisen recalled. “I got home around 5:30 and I got a call at six from Brian Cashman and he said we traded you to the Milwaukee Brewers. We wish you the best in your career. You made some big strides this year and we wish you the best in your future and good luck.”
Feyereisen, 26, said he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“It was a shock,” he said. “I was really caught off guard. But the more shocking part was, holy crap! I’m coming home to the Brewers! I got a chance to go pitch in Milwaukee!”
Feyereisen said the Brewers weren’t even aware of his selection to Team USA.
“They called and they said we looked at your innings and you’ve pitched enough innings this year, and our triple A team is done so we’re not going to rush you down there for one game,” he said. “Then they asked, are you doing anything offseason-wise? And I said I’m playing for Team USA. And they said congratulations, great opportunity, enjoy that, and we’ll see you in spring training.”
But there’s the rub. If Feyereisen is named to the Brewer’s roster out of spring training he would be ineligible to play for Team USA in the Olympics. So which would he prefer?
“I’m not going to complain about either one,” he said.
Like the last time baseball appeared in the Olympics in 2008, USA Baseball has decided to select non 40-man roster players for the national team so as not to disrupt the Major League Baseball season in the middle of summer. MLB has never interrupted its season or sent players from 25-man rosters to the Olympics.
“So if I were to get put on the Brewers roster I would not be able to compete in the Olympics,” Feyereisen said,” If I’m not put on the roster then I’ll be able to participate in the Olympics. It’s more of a win-win than a lose-lose.”
Feyereisen said regardless of what happens, he feels he’s proved he’s worthy of being a major league pitcher. He’s coming off his best season in the minors with 40 appearances for Scranton/Wilkes Barre, all out of the bullpen, covering 61.1 innings pitched with a 10-2 record, a 2.49 earned run average and seven saves in 10 opportunities.
In his minor league career, he owns a 2.49 ERA with 33 saves in 42 opportunities, a 1.12 WHIP, and 371 strikeouts in 307.2 innings. Opponents have just a .201 batting average against him.
“With the year I was having I felt like I would get a chance,” Feyereisen said. “This year I was throwing my fastball where I wanted and my breaking ball where I wanted and I was throwing my change up basically in any count and where I wanted. I felt like this year I made a big stride. I felt this year that I was ready for that next step.”
Feyereisen earned all-state honors as a senior at River Falls in 2011, and just a week after being named the tournament MVP while leading the Post 121 American Legion team to the 2011 state title, he was the winning pitcher for the River Falls Fighting Fish in the championship game of the 2011 Wisconsin Baseball Association State Tournament.
A starter at UW-Stevens Point, where he was named the WIAC Pitcher of the Year in 2014, he grabbed the attention of major league scouts as the closer for the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters in the prestigious Northwoods League and was the 488th overall pick in the 2014 MLB draft. He was one of four players traded by the Indians to the New York Yankees in 2016 for all-star closer Andrew Miller.
Feyereisen said his recent trade to the Brewers made his family and friends a lot happier.
“When I got traded the last time my mom and dad went out and bought a bunch of Yankees stuff,” he said. “Now they just have to go to their closet.”
Feyereisen said he will work out in River Falls and with the University of Minnesota baseball team before joining Team USA Oct. 20 in Arizona for a week of practice ahead of the Premier 12 Tournament. He said it’s been “a grind through seven levels of minor league baseball,” but it’s been worth it.
“Now I have a chance to go pitch for Team USA and then hopefully pitch in Milwaukee,” he said. “So it all works out for a reason.”