It’s a moment Midwest City native Jeremy McBryde has thought about since he put on a baseball glove at age 4.
And now that McBryde’s dream of making a Major League Baseball team looks close enough to become reality, he finds himself dreading the call.
Today, McBryde will take the mound at Raley Field in Sacramento, home of the River Cats, the Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics. It’s his first Father’s Day since his wife, Shanna, gave birth 10 months ago to twins, a boy, Kamden, and a girl, Hadley.
His young family plans to be in the stands to watch daddy, a relief pitcher, close out the game and hopefully improve his chance at 27, an age by which many prospects have have given up their dreams, of finally receiving a major league call up.
“Even though I’ll have my family here with me, Father’s Day is tough,” McBryde said by telephone from Sacramento. “I always think of my dad and how he’d love to be here seeing me play and holding his grandkids. … Just a tough thing.”
In 2010, on his first day of spring training with the San Diego Padres’ A-ball affiliate, McBryde received a phone call from his dad, Travis.
He’d gone for a teeth cleaning. The dentist saw something that worried him. He got checked. Colon cancer. He was in the hospital. Doctors wanted to operate.
“He’s telling me this on the phone and he’s telling me that I need to stay and be with my team,” McBryde said. “I told him, ‘OK,’ hung up the phone and got on the next plane back to Oklahoma.”
Colon cancer diagnosis
Jeremy’s father woke from surgery to a grim prognosis, a tumor the size of a canteloupe. Doctors estimated he had six months.
“I was devastated,” Jeremy said. “My dad was everything to me. I just didn’t want to lose him.”
Travis McBryde taught his three sons about hard work from an early age. If they were going to do something, they were going to give their all.
All three loved baseball. Travis taught them, his main tools being long, hard hours of practice on scorching hot summer days.
Jeremy McBryde would grow jealous of friends during summer breaks. They could spend time by the pool or watching television. Meanwhile, Jeremy crafted his baseball technique and sometimes cursed his dad for not allowing any breaks.
“He knew hard work and he preached it,” Jeremy said. “While all my friends were out having summers, I was playing in games or going to practice. When dad got home from work he’d work with me in the yard. I always had the dream to play but he made me who I am today.”
Both of McBryde’s older brothers quit baseball because they grew tired of their father’s practice regimen, McBryde said.
With Jeremy, Travis changed tactics. He eased up a bit. Still tough, but not pushing so hard.
At Midwest City High School, Jeremy closed out the state championship game as a sophomore and by his senior year was a member of the All-State team.
Travis never missed a game, despite working as a painting contractor and going back to school to get his accounting license.
The Padres drafted Jeremy out of high school in 2005. As a 38th round pick, the money wasn’t great. He chose college, hoping to improve and see where he stood the next year.
With money tight, Jeremy decided to play at Rose State College, just two blocks from his childhood home. There he met Shanna, a softball player from Choctaw. After two seasons, he signed a $150,000 contract with the Padres and after two seasons in A ball was considered a rising prospect in the organization.
Back home, Travis would text Shanna play-by-play of Jeremy’s games, updating her on nearly every pitch. The couple married in 2010.
“He was so intense,” she said. “He loved watching Jeremy pitch more than anything.”
Sidelined by injuries
Then, the injury bug hit.
First, a bad back put Jeremy on the disabled list for half a season. The next year, 2010, a shoulder injury cost him another half season.
But Jeremy never grew too discouraged. After every game, his dad would call. He’d ask how the game went, offer encouragement and tell Jeremy he’d help by catching for him next time he was home.
“Good game, bad game, he would always say he was proud,” Jeremy said. “Tell me to keep my head up, come back tomorrow and have a better day. Always motivating.”
Jeremy came back strong after his injuries, but the damage seemingly had been done.
Jeremy was off the organization’s radar. The years were passing. He was still toiling in A league and rookie ball.
After his dad’s diagnosis, Jeremy and his older brothers, Brandon and Craig, paid their father’s medical bills. They were dedicated to making sure he had every opportunity to get better.
Travis went to a few of Jeremy’s minor league games, surprising his son on one occassion by waving from the stands before Jeremy took the mound.
“I was throwing about as hard as I ever had,” Jeremy said. “I just wanted to make him smile.”
Jeremy surprised his dad by having him throw out the first pitch at a game. He met his dad at the mound, gave him a huge bear hug and then went behind the plate to take the throw.
It would be the last game of Jeremy’s that Travis would see. Travis McBryde died on November 28, 2011, two days past his 54th birthday.
“After that, everything just felt off,” Jeremy said. “I struggled playing. I couldn’t eat or sleep. It just felt like something was missing.”
Jeremy nearly hung it up after his dad’s death. He couldn’t imagine not seeing him in the stands, or hearing his comforting words after a bad game.
He also was frustrated with his situation in the minors, a grueling position within the Padres’ organization that was taking him away from his family more and more and showing no signs of progress. He was starting to question his love for the game.
“I started feeling angry,” he said. “Like I should have worked harder while I was younger so that he could have seen me make it.
“It was just rough looking into the stands and not seeing the guy that put his whole heart and soul into molding you.”
Jeremy became a minor league free agent after the 2013 season. The River Cats gave him a tryout and he impressed enough to earn a roster spot. He slid into the closer role and this season began racking up the stats, striking out 30 in 29 innings and allowing only one baserunner per inning.
“It’s a dream that just can’t go away,” he said. “Seeing how close I am, the more and more it feels like it could come true.”
Shanna thinks Jeremy is making good on all the work Travis put into him.
“He felt down and out but he realized it would be a testament to his dad to keep going,” she said. “Just keep working hard for his dad.”
Jeremy said he’s not sure how he’ll react if he gets the call to the majors. He’ll be happy of course. He’ll celebrate with his family, call all his relatives and friends and post about it on Facebook. But there will be that moment when he’ll think of his dad.
“Bittersweet,” he said. “He was the one pushing me and being there every step of the way so I know he’d have a smile on his face. This dream is kinda what keeps me going, but that day without him ... I can’t even imagine.”
Travis was already proud of Jeremy, Shanna said, and his delight in his son had nothing to do with baseball.
“He loved the man he was off the field,” she said. “Everything on the field is just a bonus.”
McBryde’s excited to be able to tell his twins about their grandpa when they get older. To show them hard work and dedication and to teach them that you have to work for everything you are given.
“I’m still chasing this dream that I have,” he said. “But I’ve really got everything I could ever want. The support of my family and friends and lessons to teach my kids ... as they get older.”
Dad is gone, but his hard work is still in play.