The incredible journey of Jackson Stevens from the Mexican indie ball to Braves Bulpen

There were times last winter when: Jackson Stevens He was sitting alone on a gloomy food court in the Venezuelan city of Barcisimeto, in the shopping center next to a hotel where he lived during a winter dance, wondering if it was worth it.

A boy from a small town in Alabama, who had a 4.83 ERA’s two seasons with Cincinnati և last played in 2018, could not have imagined that in a few months he would become an integral part. To defend the title of world champion Atlanta Braves.

But let’s confirm this a little further.

after his release by Reds At the end of the 2019 season – Stevens had 5.14 in ERA 47 Triple-A games that year – being completely out of baseball in 2020, when the minor league season was canceled, no team was interested in him, Stevens took the only one. He was offered a job in 2021 as a member of the independent Mexican League team.

And it had to be done.

Were it not for his wife Britannia, he would not have said yes to the offer of Tecolotes de los Dos Laredos, which considers itself the only two-nation baseball team in the world, seeing as it distributes its home games between the balls. Laredo, Texas Ն Nuo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico

“I was waiting for a phone call to invite another team to spring training in 2020 or something, and then COVID-19 hit,” said Stevens of Oxford, Ala. from high school. . “So obviously when that happened, the small leagues were not playing, it reduced everything (spring training), the teams were not signing contracts with people. … So I did not play for a whole year, և then I waited for the call in 2021 to see if I would have a chance. I was training. And I never really got a call. “


“The only team that called me was the Mexican League team,” he said.

Brittany Stevens is a nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Birmingham Hospital. She watched her husband train in 2020 և next winter, hoping there would be a call. He knew what that meant to him, that if he left at 26, he would regret it.

“My wife made me go there to Mexico,” he said. “I was saying that. “I will not go down there.” And he said: “You have to go. We must give at least one shot. ” And I did,: it turned out great. ”

How well it went is as unbelievable as how Stephens made 4.98 ERA the first step back to the main stage in 12 games (11 starts) with Dos Laredos. Take a look at this ERA և you will see 69 strokes և 16 steps in 65 innings during that season in Mexico in 2021, when its stroke ratio was 9.6 for every nine nine innings after 9.3’s starting ball in 2012.

One person who caught the eye was Jose Yepez, the Brave Bullfighter, who has a winter job as director general of the Cardenales de Lara in the Venezuelan league. The team is based in Barkisimeto and was one of his catchers last winter William Contreraswhich the Brave sent there to take time with the bats on a plate.

Yepez watched a video of Stevens, a tough, bearded man who turned 28 on Wednesday, thinking he could help his team in Venezuela. And Stephens, after spending a season in Mexico, had learned at least enough Spanish to order food.

Yepez told him he would help the rest, ֆ Stephens agreed to join the Cardenas de Lara.

“I went down there and did everything I wanted to do,” Stevens said. “I was successful in Mexico, so I wanted to continue in Venezuela. And I did well there. ”

In 14 games, including nine starts in Venezuela, Stevens had a 1.82 ERA with 44 strokes, 10 steps in 49 1/3 innings, and allowed only three home runs. He was named Pitcher of the Year in the Winter League.

“I worked there for seven years as a general manager, I see a lot of big leagues going there, they can’t play well,” said Yepez. He hit all year, started with a “pen” and then as a starting pitcher. He did a good job. He received a pitcher of the year. However, he could not play in the playoffs, only in the regular season. But he did a good job for us. ”

Stevens could not play in the playoffs because he agreed to a deal with the Braves in the minor league; he had to rest a little before the minor league camp in Florida. The deal happened because of Ephesus, who told Atlanta team officials about Stephens.

“I told the brave ones. “Look at this guy, I think he can help us. “You can find him somewhere in Double A or Triple A and see what happens,” Yepez said.

While the lockout delayed the spring training of the main league, Stephens was in the small league camp, again impressive. He played well in the Triple-A spring game. the reduced ramp when the lockout was over.

Manager Brian Snitker was among those who spotted Stephens in the minor league camp at the Grapefruit League game. And when the Brave put Jacob Webb in the first week of the season, they added Stevens to the Premier League list and put him on their form.

It didn’t take long to see why they decided he could help. In six performances, Stephens has a 1.80 ERA և 12 strokes in 10 innings, eight strokes, two runs and three steps.

“It’s amazing to see him on the pitch, he’s been there so long (Mexico և Venezuela),” said veteran Braves, a freedom fighter. Darren O’Day he said. “She is OK. He can move the ball as he pleases. But yes, I think that experience, that failure, that difficulty give perspective.

“Now that he is here, he is trying to make the most of it. He has gone through a low level, և he is here now: he is flourishing. He is probably in one of the better teams for him. It’s a good team, a good group of guys, so I bet he’s pretty happy. And he certainly did make a great addition to the team. “

Stevens conceded four shots in his first two appearances, two runs in four innings, and since then he has made six goalless innings in four games with eight shots, one step and four shots.

“The brave ones offered me to play, I admired it,” he said, recalling the excitement of first joining the team he grew up on television as a child in Alabama, in Turner Field. “It was a minor league deal, there was no invitation to the spring training of the big league. “I can not believe it happened, but just staying inside me, staying on my path, doing what I have to do helped me get here.”

Stephens may use the small league ball COVID-19 as a pretext to divert his career to 2020, but he does not. And he thinks that achieving a professional floor is actually beneficial.

“You know, I did not cling to my roots, I did not use what I had,” he said. “And it was a small lesson that humbled me a little bit. I’m grateful for this opportunity, I’m not going to take it. I think I did not accept it as usual with the Reds. I think I pulled out my tail to be the best pitcher I could be. But then, when your back is a little against the wall, you overcome a lot in life. And I did not feel that my back was against the wall there.

“Here I feel like my back is to the wall, I want to prove myself, to do everything I can to help this team win. It helped me a lot. “

Colin McHugh Another Braves veteran is a comforter who was selected in the draft in the 18th round to overcome many obstacles before starting his career at the age of 20. McHugh also spent one winter in Venezuela with Houston before the MLB breakthrough season in 2014.

“He’s a pretty mature pitcher,” McHugh said of Stevens. “He knows what he’s doing, he knows how to get the boys out. He can take the field, he can move the ball. He is sure. I think he has always been a kind of coffee grinder, he just tries to form teams there like most of us. “I’ve had it in my career.”

McHugh added. “Failures, as unfortunately, happen to many of us. But whatever it is, there are only a few people who can finally get through it, get to where he is right now, which, I think, is quite an integral part of this staff, this Bulgarian. He does special things. He is able to fill some areas where we need not only a sleeve, but also a quality sleeve that will be able to pull the boys out. And he showed that he is capable of it. “

Apart from Britain, there is one person who is especially proud to see that Steven makes the most of the opportunity.

“Yes, yes, he’s good, he’s aggressive,” Epes said. :

(Photo by Todd Kirkland / Getty Images)

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