RIVER FALLS -- JP Feyereisen isn’t used to being home in the spring.
Since graduating from River Falls High School in 2011, Feyeresien has spent the last eight springs playing baseball at every level from college at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point to minor league Class AAA in Scranton, Pa.
And after six seasons toiling in the minor leagues with the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankee organizations, Feyereisen’s dream of making the big leagues moved closer to reality when he was acquired by the Milwaukee Brewers at the end of last season and placed on the team’s 2020 40-man roster.
But that dream was put on hold when Major League Baseball was forced to shut down indefinitely in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sending Feyereisen and all the other players home.
“I haven’t had a spring with my family in a long time, so right now it’s great being able to spend time with my sisters and my mom and dad,” he said. “It was kind of a shell shock when they shut us down but you can’t do anything about it. You just have to control what you can and make sure when you get back on the field you’re ready to go again. But yeah, it’s a bummer. The whole world is a bummer right now. But you just have to keep going.”
That’s also the message he had for the seniors on the River Falls High School team during a Facebook Live session at First National Bank of River Falls Field on what would have been opening day for the Wildcats last Tuesday.
“I know what my senior year was like for me, and I know that you guys would really like to be here for opening day, getting on this brand new field between the lines with your brothers,” he told them. “It’s a terrible thing. I’d love to be playing baseball now, too. But we just need to make sure we stay healthy. You guys keep working every day for the chance to play this year. You want to be ready for that. Take advantage of every opportunity you have and just keep going every day. Don’t let anything stop you. You can only control the things you can control, so make sure you do that.”
Feyereisen said he’s been doing his best to stay ready to resume his big league dream, including weightlifting and band work above the garage at his parents’ house, running on the neighborhood streets and throwing whenever and wherever he can.
“But basically I’ve been with the family a lot, which is something in this time we all need to do,” he said. “Just being with my family; with my dad working in the woods and with my mom cooking a lot of meals together. She makes a lot of good meals but so far I’d say my favorite is a little elk back strap.”
As much as he’s enjoying this unexpected time with his family, he’s also as excited as ever about getting back to baseball. And with good reason. He’s dominated batters throughout his minor league career, pitching to a 2.49 ERA across 307.2 innings in 217 appearances. He had a big season at Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year, going 10-2 with a 2.49 ERA in 40 relief appearances, along with seven saves and 94 strikeouts in 61⅓ innings.
So when his home-state Brewers traded for him last October and placed him on their 40-man roster, he knew they had plans for him. On his first Brewers’ spring training he met legendary Hall of Fame radio announcer Bob Uecker.
“Meeting Uecker was probably one of the coolest things for me,” he said. “I started to introduce myself and he said, ‘Don’t! I know who you are! You think I don’t know another Wisconsin guy?’ He comes into the clubhouse and he knows everybody and he’s got jokes every time. He’s the same as he is on the air.
“It’s an awesome experience,” he added. “Spring training was great, and when it came to a sudden halt it was tough.”
It was also tough on Feyereisen’s former Wildcat teammate Alex Call. The Big Rivers Conference Player of the Year as a senior in 2013, Call played three seasons at Ball State University where he was the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year, a Louisville Slugger First Team All-American and a member of the MAC All-Defensive team as an outfielder before being selected by the Chicago White Sox in the third round of the 2016 MLB draft.
He was traded to the Cleveland Indians before the 2019 season and played for Class A Winston-Salem and Class AA Birmingham last season, batting .248 with 12 homers and 58 RBIs in 123 games. In 257 minor league games over three seasons, he has a career average of .256.
Call married his college sweetheart this past December and the couple are staying with his wife’s family near Chicago until the coronavirus crisis subsides. He said he spent a lot of time working on his swing in the offseason, taking what he described as “thousands and thousands” of swings at River Falls Field of Dreams before heading to Arizona in January to take advantage of the Indians’ early hitting camps.
“I was really in a good spot and the spring was going great,” he said. “We had just started getting into games and I played in a couple of big league games and then I played in our first minor league game and I was doing well, I had a double in the gap. Then the next day they called us in and said we were all going home.”
As anxious as he is to return to baseball, Call said right now the most important thing is to make sure it’s safe to do so.
“The most important thing is, we as a country and as athletes, have to do our part to beat this thing,” he said. “Our number one focus is to make sure we defeat this.”
There’s been talk about baseball resuming sometime in May with games being played at spring training sites in Arizona and Florida and clubs living in contained environments. Feyereisen said he doesn’t have any inside information, but he’ll be ready when the time comes.
“I’m sure as soon as everyone else knows we’re going to find out the same day,” he said. “Basically just stay ready and stay locked in.”
Call said he’s confident, and grateful, that sooner or later he’ll have the opportunity to play baseball again.
“People are losing their jobs, and it’s really tough,” he said. “So I’m thankful that baseball will return, and as of now I have a job I love. It’s a blessing.”