RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- JP Feyereisen grew up dreaming of playing Major League Baseball. But when he finally realized the dream, there was nobody there to see it.
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 July 24.
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.
“Some of the older guys said they kind of felt bad for me making my debut without fans,” he said from his home in River Falls last week. “But they also said, you’re still a big leaguer now and you can always claim that. When somebody asks, who did you play for? it’s not, well I played for this minor league team or I played or that minor league team. It’s -- I played in the big leagues for the Brewers. They said now I can say I made it to the highest level of the sport.”
He’s just the 10th Wisconsin born player to suit up for the Brewers.
A 16th round draft choice by the Cleveland Indians out of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2014, Feyereisen spent six seasons climbing the ladder in the Indians and New York Yankee organizations. A two-time minor league all-star, including in 2019 with the Yankees Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders, he pitched to a 2.49 ERA across 307.2 innings in 217 career minor appearances before being traded to his home-state Brewers last September. His dream of making the big leagues moved closer to reality when he was added to the Brewers’ 40-man roster in November, and after a pandemic-interrupted spring training, he earned a spot on the team’s 30-man roster for the abbreviated 60-game season in July.
And to those people who say the 2020 season doesn’t matter because it was only 60 games, Feyereisen would beg to differ.
“I think it was a lot tougher on people,” he said. “It wasn’t the same travel; everyone had to wear masks on the plane and everyone had to wear masks on the bus. That made it harder than a normal season where you get to basically worry about your job and that’s it. Now you have to worry about your health, you had to worry about your family, you had to worry about everyone at home. Because it wasn’t a normal year.”
Feyereisen spent the shortened season splitting time between the big leagues and the Brewers alternate training site in Appleton. He said in both cases players were limited to their apartments or homes and subjected to saliva tests every other day. During one of his stays in Appleton in September, the team shut down the alternate training site after two players and one staff member tested positive for COVID-19.
“I didn’t throw for a week,” he said. “I didn’t even pick up a baseball for a week because we were stuck in quarantine.”
To complicate matters the Brewers were battling for a spot in the playoffs and decided to call Feyereisen back up to the big league squad at the end of his quarantine.
“I played catch, threw a bullpen at Miller Park, and then had to drive down to St. Louis and pitch the next day,” he recalled. “When I was going out for the game I was like -- I just hope I throw strikes. That was my only thought -- throw strikes -- and hopefully they put it in play at people.”
As it turns out he threw a one-two-three inning to wrap up a Brewers’ 9-1 victory.
“It actually turned out to be a good outing,” he said. “Nothing was hit really hard and no walks, so that was nice.”
Feyereisen finished the season with six appearances out of the bullpen, totaling 9.1 innings with seven strikeouts and five walks. He allowed just four hits, but three of them went for home runs, leading to an earned run average of 5.79, while opponents batted just .138 against him.
He said as hungry as he was in the minor leagues, his first taste of big league ball made him hungrier.
“I know I can throw up there,” he said. “It felt like every time I gave up a hit it was a homer. I don’t know what that was all about but I know that’s baseball, and sooner or later it’s going to come around where I give up a hard hit and it’s going to be at somebody for an out. And knowing the guys I faced and the guys I got out this year, I can pitch up there.”
Since returning to River Falls Feyereisen said he’s spent a lot of time in his deer stand, bow hunting with his father, Randy. But he said he’s looking forward to getting back to working on improving his velocity, which has been consistently in the 92-95 mph range, during the offseason.
“I want to get stronger,” he said. “I feel like when you get stronger and more explosive and add a little more weight, you’ll be able to move a five-ounce baseball a little faster. And the harder you throw, the better it makes every other pitch as well.”
He said while this year was far from normal, he’s looking forward to having the big league season he always dreamed about next year.
“I look at the year as a brief interlude to what the big leagues are really like,” he said. “Next year, when hopefully there’s fans in the stands, it will be a whole different story and a whole new adventure.”