After being released by three major league organizations over a two-year span following Tommy John surgery and pitching in an independent minor league, Ryan Feierabend was definitely thinking about the dreaded “R” word.
But a winter workout in late 2012 at Midview High School, his alma mater, inadvertently reignited the left-hander’s baseball career and put him on a path back to the big leagues.
On Saturday, six years after he last threw a pitch in the big leagues with the Seattle Mariners, Feierabend had his contract purchased by the Texas Rangers to help aid an injury-riddled pitching staff.
On Sunday, Feierabend was back on a major league mound for the first time since Sept. 23, 2008, throwing 1⅓ innings of relief against the Los Angeles Angels.
“It’s awesome to be back,” said the 28-year-old Feierabend, in his 10th season of professional ball after being drafted in the third round by the Mariners fresh out of Midview in 2003. “It’s a great feeling and I’m definitely cherishing it. I’m not saying it’s any more thrilling, but it’s definitely not any less than the last time. It’s been six years since Tommy John surgery.
“Even if it’s only for a couple of days, I’m going to treat it as if it’s my first time. Ever since I was 17 and at Midview, it was my dream to be in the big leagues. So to realize that dream again after all that time is great. Hopefully it lasts longer this time around.”
Left out lefty
Feierabend realized his dream in September of 2006 at age 20, when he was called up from Class AA to start for the Mariners.
“That was kind of a shocker to skip AAA as a young kid,” said Feierabend in a phone interview from Arlington, Texas. “I sort of got my feet wet that way. I was a younger kid, and even now, I’m still young compared to the other guys, service-time wise. You keep your mouth shot, do your job and you’re along for the ride.”
Feierabend bounced back and forth between the Mariners and the Class AAA Tacoma Rainers the next two seasons. Between 2006 and ’08, Feierabend appeared in 25 games with the Mariners, starting 19. He went 2-11 with a 7.22 ERA in the majors, striking out 64 and walking 44.
But prior to the 2009 season, he underwent Tommy John surgery and was forced to miss the entire season.
He returned in 2010 to find the Mariners had allowed his contract to expire. He signed with the Philadelphia Phillies and made the Class AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs out of spring training. Working off the rust and getting his arm back into shape, Feierabend went 10-8 with a 5.39 ERA.
Feierabend came into 2011 expecting another shot with the IronPigs, but the Phillies released him during spring training. Suddenly, he was out of a job and only independent leagues were contacting him.
“I was told early on that, as long as you’re left-handed and can get the ball over the plate, you’ll always have a job in baseball,” Feierabend said. “Unfortunately, I was finding out that was no longer the case.”
Feierabend weighed offers from the hometown Lake Erie Crushers of the Frontier League and the York (Pa.) Revolution of the Atlantic League. In the end, he signed with the Atlantic League, believing it gave him the best chance to get back to the big leagues.
He was right. The Reds purchased his contract from the Revolution in early June and sent him to the Class AAA Louisville Bats. But the success he had in York was missing in Louisville. After going 1-4 with a 7.75 ERA in seven starts, the Reds released him at the All-Star break.
“There was definitely a point in time that year that I thought about retirement,” Feierabend said. “I went back to the York Revolution and set the franchise record for single-season ERA (2.71, going 9-5 with 75 strikeouts). I went out and played winter ball and the success continued there. But after that, my phone didn’t ring that much.
“I tried to impress (at Louisville) when I didn’t have to. They saw something they liked in the first place, or else they wouldn’t have signed me. I pressed too much to try to hurry up and get back to the big leagues, and it shot me in the foot.”
Seemingly out of options and off the radar of affiliated clubs, Feierabend started working out at Midview. He had become a mentor of sorts to Eric Lauer, another Middie lefty who was starting to get a lot of attention from big league scouts, and they began throwing together.
One day, a Texas Rangers scout named Roger Coryell came to Midview to watch Lauer work out when he noticed the other lefty throwing alongside him. Coryell took video of Feierabend and scribbled down some notes and showed them to his bosses with the Rangers.
“A couple of days later, I got a call back from the Round Rock pitching coach, Brad Holman, and he said the scouting department had some questions for me,” Feierabend said.
“Brad was one of my first pitching coaches with the Mariners in 2004, and I’ve known him throughout my whole career. It pays to stay in touch with people, because you just never know in baseball. Everyone seems to know everyone, and if someone likes you and vouches for you, it goes a long way.”
Feierabend was signed Jan. 18, 2013, and went to spring training with the Rangers. He was originally assigned to the Class AA Frisco RoughRiders, but was promoted to the Class AAA Round Rock Express just 21 days later. He went 7-7 with a 3.70 ERA in 2013, but was never promoted by the Rangers.
This time he got the call.
“There have been a lot of unfortunate injuries with the Rangers, but other peoples’ injuries open up opportunities for others,” Feierabend said. “Whether it’s for one day or the rest of the year, I’m fortunate enough to call myself a big leaguer again, and I’m going to hold on to it as long as I can.”
Moving ahead, giving back
Feierabend has remained close to his alma mater. Every year, he addresses the incoming baseball team and offers to work out with them. He became somewhat of a sounding board for Lauer and Cody Callaway.
“Practice makes perfect and that’s what I harp on with young guys,” Feierabend said. “Whether it was baseball or basketball, I worked on it at home with my dad all the time, and it helped me immensely.”
The work with the Middies has Feierabend thinking about a coaching career after his playing days are over, but he’d have to clear it with his wife, Sarah, first.
“I don’t know if my wife would like it,” he joked. “But she’s a great supporter since Day One and grew up in a baseball family.
“I’d love to coach at the college or pro level. I’ve learned a lot from a lot of coaches at a lot of places. It’s all about coachability, and that’s something I would try to preach and pass on to the younger generation.”
But for now, Feierabend is focused on resurrecting his career and enjoying his second chance at big league life.
“Hopefully, it’s for the long haul and not for the short term,” he said. “Either way, I’m going to enjoy it to the fullest.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
MLB DEBUT: Sept. 13, 2003
CAREER RECORD: 2-11
CAREER ERA: 7.21
CAREER STRIKEOUTS: 64