WASHINGTON – Lori Shuster was kind, caring and funny. She always seemed to be in a great mood. She treated everyone with respect. She would do anything for anyone, especially her children.

“She was the best,” Jared Shuster said.

Lori was a baseball mom. She drove Jared to practice and went on the road with him for travel baseball tournaments. Before games, she would send him encouraging texts. At the field, he always heard her distinct voice – she had a thick Long Island accent – cheering him on while he played.

“Come on, Shu!” she would yell.

Jared thinks about his mother every day. Now, he recalls only the good memories and not those filled with sadness. Lori is with him as he chases his dreams, and he honors her in how he lives.

“I just try to be the same way she was: Treat everyone with respect and work as hard as I can,” Jared said.

Lori died from stage 4 breast cancer on Nov. 21, 2020, one day before her birthday and mere months after the Braves drafted Jared.

On Sunday, around two and a half years after his mother’s passing, 24-year-old Jared, a left-handed pitcher, made his MLB debut at Nationals Park. In a 4-1 loss to the Nationals, he allowed four runs on six hits, with five walks, over 4 2/3 innings as he put a rough first inning behind him and held the Nationals scoreless the rest of the way.

Jared has Lori’s name inscribed in his glove. He also re-reads screenshots from text messages she used to send.

She is always with him.

“I think he’s doing it for her and really wanting her to see him succeed,” said Alexa Shuster, Jared’s older sister. “I think she’s here with him today, and with us.”

Braves pitcher Jared Shuster with mother Lori Shuster.

Credit: Photo by Bennett Shuster

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Credit: Photo by Bennett Shuster

‘I think she held out to see that’

On draft night in 2020, while Jared waited to hear his name called, Lori was in the hospital, unable to celebrate. She was battling breast cancer, and all of this was hard on Jared, then a pitcher at Wake Forest.

But she did get to see him realize a lifelong dream when the Braves selected him in the first round - with the No. 25 overall pick.

“I think she held out to see that,” Alexa said.

“It meant the world for her to be able to see that,” Jared said. “I wish she was here to be able to see (my debut), but it definitely meant a lot.”

After the Braves drafted Shuster, he soon departed home (New Bedford, Massachusetts) for professional baseball. With minor-league baseball shuttered for the year due to COVID, the Braves’ alternate site served as Jared’s introduction to Atlanta’s system. He began to turn heads there.

Meanwhile, Jared and his family knew his mother’s condition was worsening.

In the fall, Jared returned home from the alternate site. A couple weeks later, Lori died.

“He was there,” said Bennett Shuster, Jared’s father. “She died in his arms, basically.”

What followed is the inspiring story of how a young adult – someone who dealt with tragedy no one his age should ever experience – turned it into motivation, fueling his goals and dreams, adding more gasoline to his competitive fire.

“He manned up,” Bennett said.

“She wanted him – and he knows this – to just keep playing and do it for her,” Alexa said.

And that’s what Jared did.

‘Dreams come true’

In 2021, Jared began the season in High A and eventually made it to Double A. In 2022, he started in Double A before the Braves promoted him to Triple A.

“Just kind of focusing on baseball and trying to take my mind off it,” Jared said of how he moved past his mother’s passing. “It was kind of nice to be on the road playing through the minors, just kind of getting my head away from it and just be able to work on baseball. She was always very supportive and made a lot of sacrifices for me to get here.”

When he reported to North Port for his first big-league camp this spring, no one thought Shuster had a chance to make the opening day starting rotation. The Braves never could’ve expected what unfolded: Shuster and Dylan Dodd, another left-handed pitching prospect, greatly exceeded expectations, forcing the Braves to option others while focusing on Shuster and Dodd for the big-league rotation.

Eventually, Shuster received the terrific news: He made the opening day roster. He would debut during the series finale in Washington.

“It was surreal,” Shuster said of opening day. “It was honestly one of the best days of my life, just being out here and getting to experience an opening day. I’m super grateful for it.”

His rise is impressive. It becomes even more remarkable when you consider the tragedy he experienced less than three years ago. It didn’t derail him, but drove him.

“Just for him to man up, and just watch what happened, it definitely inspires him to do what he’s doing,” Bennett said.

To Bennett and Alexa, this day – Jared’s debut – is indescribable. For Alexa’s whole life, their vacations centered around Jared’s travel ball tournaments. They have watched Jared take all of the steps in baseball, and in life.

His father and sister have seen him grow from an infant who watched baseball games in front of the television to a big-league pitcher. In between, they supported him when he played high school baseball at Tabor Academy, travel ball with North East Baseball, then college baseball at Wake Forest.

And on Sunday, Bennett and Alexa stood in the concourse at Nationals Park. At the time, Jared was out in the visiting bullpen warming up.

He would soon debut.

“If I had to describe it, I’m just proud,” Bennett said. “Dreams come true. People actually can do this. It can happen.”

“I have no words,” Alexa said. “It doesn’t feel real.”

The final line for Braves starter Jared Shuster - 4 2/3 innings, six hits, four runs, five walks and one strikeout.

Credit: AP photo/Alex Brandon

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Credit: AP photo/Alex Brandon

‘It gives you goosebumps’

In the spring of 2020, before COVID shut down the world, Spencer Strider and his Clemson teammates traveled to North Carolina to face Shuster and Wake Forest (the two schools play in the same conference).

“We were a little concerned that series was not going to go well for us,” Strider recalled. “We spent a lot of time watching video on (Shuster), and he was elite.”

In high school, Shuster was not the most coveted prospect. Perfect Game, which evaluates high school players, rated Shuster as the No. 346 prospect in the nation. In a few years, Shuster turned himself into a first-round pick.

This tells you a lot about Shuster’s competitiveness and confidence. He has always had these qualities.

During one crucial travel ball game, Scott Patterson needed a center fielder. Shuster pushed for the job. Patterson, who owns North East Baseball, declined, only because he tries to protect his players. Shuster was a rising pitching prospect and Patterson didn’t want to put Shuster at risk. So he let him be the designated hitter.

“He just wanted to be a part of the game,” Patterson said. “He’s always just loved the game of baseball, no matter if it was pitching or playing in general. He’s just always had a constant love for the game.”

Nowadays, Shuster’s best weapon is his changeup. The pitch tunnels well with his fastball. (In other words, the two offerings look the same to hitters, making it difficult to know which pitch is actually on the way.)

“It’s like a magic trick,” Strider said. “It’s an optical illusion. You can’t stay back on it. And he locates it so well.”

On Sunday, the first six Nationals reached versus Shuster in what became a four-run inning. He steadied himself the rest of the way. Despite its rocky beginning, Shuster’s debut is still a monumental accomplishment for him.

“It was just a dream to be out there,” Shuster said after the game. “Super grateful.”

Shuster is from the northeast, an area that doesn’t produce professional baseball players like California, Florida, Georgia, Texas and Arizona.

Just using adversity and no matter what, showing up to the field the same way. If you had a good game or a bad game, just showing up to the field enjoying it and staying positive. “The ratio of kids who play to the ones that make it is small enough – just nationwide, let alone this area,” Patterson said. “It’s definitely a rarity from up here.” So the locals pay attention to the ones who do make it.

Recently, Shuster has heard from a lot of people. Back home, they are following him.

“There’s a lot of great people,” he said. “It means a lot to hear that they’re proud of me and are keeping track of what’s going on.

On Sunday, his dad, sister, aunt, uncle and other family members attended his debut. So, too, did some high school friends and coaches, and a couple college coaches.

Everyone is proud of him.

“He’s never doubted himself,” Patterson said. “In my opinion, just to watch him out there, he just looks like it’s a normal day, right? He’s probably so nervous, but you would never know. He’s calm, cool and collected.”

Shuster turned sadness into motivation. His story is an example of overcoming tragedy.

When Patterson learned that Shuster would soon make his big-league debut, he sent him a text about how Shuster’s mother would be so proud.

“It gives you goosebumps even talking about it,” Patterson said. “For someone to battle through adversity the way that he has and maintain his composure – he’s never really skipped a beat. I think he threw everything into one basket and really attacked his baseball offseasons in a different way, and obviously it’s showing.”

‘Mom is watching’

Until he knows you more, Jared is really shy. He is a man of few words. He keeps it all inside.

“Very quiet, but very mature,” Alexa said. “Just a great, very caring, brother. Always wants the best for everybody.”

Just like his mother.

Those who know him best sensed the pain he felt about his mother going through such a terrible situation.

“I know how much it hurt him when she was diagnosed,” Bennett said. “It was a tough situation. But I think a lot of motivation and inspiration came from her.”

Growing up, Jared and Alexa would watch shows together late at night. Alexa always made Jared watch romantic comedies together, and he enjoyed them. They played with their cat together, went to water parks, attended sporting events and made tons of trips to the movies. They are close.

“He would always make me laugh,” Alexa said. “He’s funny – he’s really funny.”

Nowadays, Jared said his father and sister fill his mother’s void when it comes to support with baseball. “They’ve been huge,” Jared said. Lori, his mother, was always involved in his baseball journey while Bennett, his father, worked.

And of course, Lori is still with Jared wherever he goes, whatever he does.

Before Jared’s games, Alexa will text him something like this:

“Mom is watching. She’s so proud.”