A ball player with local ties just got the most important promotion in his career, his promotion to the major leagues.
Matt Marksberry, a graduate of Glen Este High School and whose parents graduated from North Adams High School, had his major league debut for the Atlanta Braves on July 31 against the Philadelphia Phillies where he pitched one and 2/3 innings, giving up two hits, 1 walk and no runs.
Marksberry had been scoreless in his first five appearances as a big-leaguer, but after giving up one run in a loss to Miami on Aug. 9, Marksberry had his first “Welcome to the Majors” moment when he was knocked around for three earned runs on four hits in two-thirds of an inning in a game Wednesday night at Tampa.
Still, it’s been a remarkable couple of weeks for the young man from Batavia.
“It’s very different coming from the minor leagues,” Marksberry said. “It’s a totally different lifestyle and definitely puts things into perspective. You just realize how good you have it now and how other people don’t have it as good as you.”
While nobody’s time in the major leagues is guaranteed, Marksberry is enjoying the perks of the job for the time being, especially the travel and the food.
“We get to travel on chartered flights which is one of the biggest things,” Marksberry said. “In the minors it was play a game and then get on a bus and drive five or six hours to get to the next place. Now we just go to the airport, walk right out onto the tarmac and get right to the flight. The food is so much better here too. It’s immaculate.”
Marksberry was selected by the Braves in the 15th round of the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft out of Campbell University. From there he quickly went up the ranks in the minor league system playing rookie ball at Danville, VA in 2013.
In the far less glamorous minor leagues making only a few hundred dollars per week, Marksberry found himself with added stresses and pressures many professional athletes don’t have to worry about – money issues and student loan payments from college.
“People see minor league players and say ‘You make a lot of money’ but so many people don’t realize that some people at McDonald’s are making way, way more money. It was very stressful having life problems while you’re competing at the highest level that you can. I just kept thinking, ‘If I can make it to the big leagues then all my problems will be solved.’ I’d be lying if said I didn’t want to get up here so I can provide for my family.”
After playing all year in A-ball in 2014 and starting out the season once again in A-ball in 2015, Marksberry got called into the manager’s office after a game and was told he was being called up to a higher team. Marksberry thought the natural progression would be promotion to AA ball, but the Braves had him skip AA and promoted him to AAA immediately.
“I was shocked,” Marksberry said. “We were in Potomac and I’d been pitching really well. I got called into the office and I figured I’d be going to AA and I thought, ‘There we go, sweet.’ But no, I’m going to AAA and I thought, ‘Oh wow, that’s even better.’ I don’t think it was supposed to be long term but it went well so they kept me up there and it just worked out.”
Marksberry impressed the Braves in his 11 AAA appearances with a 2.61 earned run average while also striking out eight and only walking one. Those performances led the Braves staff to believe Marksberry deserved a shot on the big stage, and the call-up was made.
One of Marksberry’s first phone calls was to his father once he got the news. His father, Bob, called it a “huge surprise.”
“He was in single-A less than two months ago,” Bob Marksberry said. “Then he got called up directly to AAA and he was only there for a few weeks. And then I got a call about 3 o’clock in the afternoon on July 30 and he said, ‘Dad, I got activated and I’m on a flight to Philly for a 7 o’clock game.’ It was a huge surprise and unexpected. My wife and I were very excited and Matt is thankful for the Braves organization.”
The Braves were on the road in Philadelphia when Marksberry got the call and got into town during the middle of the game. After changing into his uniform in the clubhouse and coming out into the dugout, he got to run out to the bullpen in the outfield in between innings,on the field for the first time as a big leaguer.
“We didn’t end up getting to the field until about 8:30-8:45 so we had enough time and it was the seventh inning,” Marksberry said. “In the eighth my other new teammate and I ran out to the bullpen and it was just awesome. It’s hard to describe, it’s what childhood dreams are like when you step onto the field as a player.”
Since Marksberry is the new guy in the bullpen, where players may not be asked to do anything but watch the game for six or seven innings, the responsibility of making sure the bullpen has enough candy and snacks for the game rests on his shoulders.
“Yea, I’m the bullpen bag guy right now,” Marksberry said. “I fill up the backpack with candy, treats, sunflower seeds, whatever the guys want. At least it’s a Red Bull bag, the other guys are really nice, they could’ve given me a pink bag to carry around or something.”
While his career so far has been brief, one first that Marksberry is especially fond of is his first major league strikeout, which came with one out in the eighth inning of a game against the San Francisco Giants. Marksberry struck out Brandon Crawford on a high fastball out of the zone.
“My first strikeout was really cool,” Marksberry said. “I got Crawford, who’s a really good hitter, a high caliber kind of player. It was just an awesome feeling. I remember thinking, ‘Alright cool, I got it.’ I got him in an 0-2 count and got him to chase. A guy like that usually doesn’t swing at that stuff.”
Marksberry got to keep that ball that struck out Crawford, along with the ball and lineup card from his first major league appearance. He mailed those treasures home, frightened he might lose them.
“I saved it all,” Marksberry said. “I sent it home. I don’t trust myself with that stuff. If I lost those things that would be pretty bad.”
Bob makes sure he doesn’t miss one of his son’s games, as he purchased an internet package through Major League Baseball so he can watch all the Braves games live.
“I got home the first night he got called up and could not find the Braves on my 1000 channels of Time Warner Digital,” Bob Marksberry said. “I was freaking out but then I found the MLB package!”
Matt was quick to thank his parents, who he said without them, there’s no chance he’d be pitching from a big-league rubber today.
“My parents have given me everything I’ve needed,” Marksberry said. “Endless hours of baseball camps, lessons, support and they’ve been my biggest supporters. I couldn’t have done anything without them.”
While Bob and his wife, Sandra, from Winchester, have yet to travel to a major league stadium to see their son play, that trip should be in the works soon.
“It’s funny, I have friends that have gone to games so far in Atlanta and Tampa but ‘Ol Dad’ is stuck here watching on TV,” Bob said. “We hope to catch him soon in Chicago or Atlanta.”
The proud father said watching his son achieve his dream gives him goosebumps.
“I am very proud of [Matt’s] dedication and work ethic,” Bob said. “But for anyone to have the opportunity to cha
se their dreams and to work towards a lifetime goal and to achieve it, man, that’s what it’s all about. And you have to remember all the good folks who help you and teach you and have faith in you. That’s what puts goosebumps on me.”
Reach Charles Grove at 937-544-2391, firstname.lastname@example.org or @WUDefender on Twitter.