RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- River Falls baseball coach Ryan Bishop always dreamed of being in the stands when former Wildcat JP Feyereisen made his major league debut.
Instead, he watched it all by himself in his living room.
Feyereisen, a 2011 River Falls High School graduate, became the first player ever from River Falls to play in the major leagues when he took the mound for the Milwaukee Brewers in the eighth inning of the team’s 2020 season opener at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs last Friday, July 24.
And because of the coronavirus pandemic, he did it in an empty stadium on one of the most iconic fields in America. But he didn’t care.
“It was very weird but it was awesome,” he said. “It had a little different feeling with the fake crowd noise and everything, but for me, I still had to have the adrenaline and everything as if the fans were in the stands.”
Feyereisen entered the game in the bottom with the Brewers trailing the Cubs 2-0. He got Cubs centerfielder Ian Happ to pop out to third for his first professional out, then struck out former MVP Kris Bryant swinging for his first pro strikeout. He gave up a solo home run on a 2-0 fastball to three-time all-star Anthony Rizzo, before breaking the bat of two-time all-star Javier Baez on a groundout to short.
There was nothing normal about last Friday to Bishop, who started the day by watching the sun rise from the stands at First National Bank of River Falls field while Feyereisen’s high school jersey hung on the home plate netting in front of him.
“I think that was the first time it really sunk in for me, that JP would officially toe the line for a big league national anthem that night,” he said. “Pretty tough to describe what that moment felt like in all honesty.”
Feyereisen was a two-time All-Big Rivers Conference player and an all-state selection as a senior at River Falls before going on to earn WIAC Pitcher of the Year honors at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2013.
Since being drafted out of UW-Stevens Point in the 16th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Cleveland Indians in 2014, he’s spent six seasons in Cleveland's and New York Yankee farm systems before being traded to his home-state Brewers last September. His dream of making the big leagues moved a lot closer to reality when he was added to the Brewers’ 40-man roster in November.
He represented Team USA at the World Baseball Softball Confederation Premier 12 Tournament in Mexico and Japan during the offseason, and reported to Arizona for Brewers’ spring training camp in February before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
He continued to work out in River Falls during the shutdown and was one of 60 players invited back when camp resumed June 29 before earning a spot on the team’s 30-man opening day roster last week.
READ MORE: Feyereisen keeping eye on the prize
He’s just the 10th Wisconsin-born player ever to play for the Brewers.
Bishop said he saw a fire in Feyereisen’s eyes when he returned to River Falls after spring training was shut down in March.
“He was determined to be even more ready when things started back up,” Bishop said. “Not knowing when that might be, he immediately began to focus on his training and nutrition. His drive never relaxed and he went back in July more prepared than he's ever been. Not only was he physically ready, but he was mentally and emotionally ready. That drive has always been there, but it was as evident as I've ever seen it with JP the past three months. He was ready to turn some heads, which is exactly what he did.”
Bishop said one thing he will cherish about Friday night was the messages he received from former Wildcat players and teammates of Feyereisen.
“Twenty-eight-year-old men sharing tears of happiness for their brother,” Bishop noted. “Which is very fitting because they have been an important part of JP's journey. It was just another reminder to me of what can happen when you learn to play the game for each other, rather than with each other. That mentality is life changing, far beyond any playing field.”
Feyereisen said his phone also blew up after the game.
“Oh my gosh; so many!” he said. “It’s been unbelievable. It’s the town of River Falls. Everyone’s got everyone else’s back and everyone’s friends and everyone’s family there. It’s been great and it’s been crazy. I had so many text messages and calls. It’s great to have the support.”
Bishop said it’s every coach’s dream to see one of his players make it to the big leagues, and he had every intention of being there when it happened. But he knows he’ll have the chance to see Feyereisen in his No. 54 Brewers’ uniform in person someday.
“As emotional as it was by myself in my own living room, I can’t imagine what that would have felt like to experience it live in a packed stadium,” he said. “But we'll get that experience also someday when things settle down. So with a glass half full, you could say we'll get to experience two different big league debuts for JP.”