The sky is uninspiring, much like the baseball being played in the south side of Chicago these days. Toronto is at Guaranteed Rate Field getting ready to take on the White Sox for the third day in a row. The stadium should be called Comiskey Park, but we’re living in different times.
Both of these clubs are on similar paths, as fans wait for a promised future. It’s a promised future that guarantees both teams won’t be playing meaningful baseball this September. It’s hardly meaningful now. And it’s only Spring. FanGraphs projects that the Blue Jays will lose 90 games this year; the White Sox 93.
The southern side of the Windy City is ready to take in a matinee game and cheer on Lucas Giolito, who was the No. 16 overall pick in the 2012 draft. He is slowly turning into the ace of the staff. He is one of the three pitching prospects that Washington sent to Chicago for outfielder Adam Eaton.
White Sox fans are still waiting for Rick Hahn’s ‘rebuild’ to turn into flags that fly forever. Hahn is probably still disappointed that Manny Machado decided to play in San Diego, but at least he tried. I’m sure he is just as ready as the fans for his organization to write different headlines, but it won’t be this year. I sometimes wonder if Bill Murray and Eddie Vedder have a soft spot for the Southside Sox.
On the jumbotron behind the center field wall, Sox fans read Ryan Feierabend’s name, which is lit up in neon lights. It’s not a high-profile name like Giolito. He was not a first-round pick. He was not a part of a blockbuster trade. He spent the past four seasons in South Korea. He walked down the Soju soaked streets in Seoul and Suwon. And probably ate Bulgogi – some Bibimbap, too.
On this overcast day, Feierabend stands on the mound in Chicago – an ocean away from Suwon Baseball Stadium where he pitched for the KT Wiz. It’s the first time he has set foot on MLB dirt since July 27, 2014. He is about to make history and not too many fans in the stadium know this; not too many fans know he is about to join an exclusive lefty knuckleball club. It’s obscure history – baseball’s best kind.
Rich Sauveur was the last member to join this lefty club, even though it has been reported differently. Sauveur pitched 10.1 innings for Oakland back in 2000 with a knuckleball grip – no knuckles actually involved. He gave up thirteen hits, 5 earned runs, struck out 7, and walked 1. And that would be the last time the MLB saw such an oddity.
On September 23, 2008, Feierabend started for the Mariners and faced Vladimir Guerrero Sr. because that’s how the baseball universe works, of course. That was the last MLB game he would start in. He had no knuckleball back then, too.
After that he travelled to High Desert (Mariners A) to West Tenn (Mariners AA) to Tacoma (Mariners AAA) to Lehigh Valley (Phillies AAA) to Louisville (Reds AAA) to Frisco (Rangers AA) to Round Rock (Rangers AAA) and then to Texas where he would pitch 7.1 innings for the Rangers in 2014.
From there, he travelled to South Korea. He pitched for the Nexen Heroes in 2015, who recently changed their club name to the Kiwoom Heroes. And then from 2016 – ’18 he pitched for the KT Wiz. And it was with the Wiz where he redefined himself and added a knuckleball to his repertoire. In 682 2/3 innings pitched in the KBO, Feierabend had 554 strikeouts, gave up 178 walks, and was hit 772 times.
It was his knuckleball that intrigued the Blue Jays front office, as they signed him to a minor-league deal this past offseason. Nick Ashbourne of Yahoo Sports even wrote an article in the winter: Ryan Feierabend might be the Blue Jays most interesting add of the offseason.
On May 18th, he finally stood on an MLB mound again – this time in Chicago.
Leury GarcÍa set foot in the batter’s box at 1:10 pm. The fans sat back and watched the first pitch of the game. Feierabend threw a four-seam fastball that travelled at the speed of 84.8 mph – it was fouled off. However, his next pitch was a knuckleball – a knuckleball that would put him in the lefty knuckleball club with pitchers like Gene Bearden, Danny Boone, Mickey Haefner, and Wilbur Wood.
The second pitch of the game – the pitch that reinvented him and the one that led him back to the MLB – was crushed by the White Sox leadoff hitter, as fans watched it sail over the left-center wall. Feierabend finished the rain-shortened game throwing 74 pitches – 51 of those for strikes: 28.4% of them were fastballs, 9.5% changeups, 2.7% curveballs, and 59.5% knuckleballs. That’s 44 knucklers in 4 innings pitched.
Once MLB officials declared the White Sox the winners after a lengthy rain delay, Feierabend found himself in his first post-game MLB scrum since 2014. He told reporters that his ultimate goal is being a regular in the big-leagues. He added that he hadn’t had that great of success in the big-leagues and that’s why he sort of reinvented himself as a knuckleballer. And, of course, the first knuckleball he throws in the MLB was sent beyond the wall, as is the case when a floater floats into dangerous territory.
When he was asked about his perseverance, he explained to beat reporters that while he was growing up, his mom was really sick. He said that when he saw her push through everything she went through that it challenged him to push himself in what he was doing. And that he did.
Who knows how many innings Ryan Feierabend will pitch for the Blue Jays, or where his baseball journey will lead to next. As long as he wants to pitch, he will pitch – it doesn’t matter if it’s in Buffalo, or Toronto, or overseas.
What I find interesting about baseball is the story behind its players. Whenever I go to a game or watch from home, I often wonder about how these people ended up in the MLB. I wonder about what road or roads they took – how many struggles were had along the way.
22,908 fans walked through the gates at Guaranteed Rate Field this past Saturday. Many of those fans watched the Blue Jays lefty struggle through 4 innings of work. However, not too many knew about what it took for the 33-year-old to get there. I know that I didn’t.
Most of the headlines in Canada were ‘Jays make Feierabend 1st lefty knuckleballer to start game in 20 years’. And most of us read that and thought ‘cool’. And it is cool. The Blue Jays current pitching situation; however, isn’t very cool at all. But because of all the bad that has happened to Toronto’s rotation, a couple of interesting arms with a journey have landed in Toronto with their journeyman stories. Ryan Feierabend is one and Edwin Jackson is the other. There might not be too much to cheer for these days for Jays fans, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t going to be stories to tell.