Spencer Schwellenbach’s family appreciates his Braves debut

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Spencer Schwellenbach (56) delivers to a Washington Nationals batter during the second inning at Truist Park, Wednesday, May 29, 2024, in Atlanta. Atlanta right-hander Spencer Schwellenbach makes his major league debut Wednesday night. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Spencer Schwellenbach (56) delivers to a Washington Nationals batter during the second inning at Truist Park, Wednesday, May 29, 2024, in Atlanta. Atlanta right-hander Spencer Schwellenbach makes his major league debut Wednesday night. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Spencer Schwellenbach admitted he was flabbergasted when the Braves told him he was becoming a major leaguer. He was preparing to move from Double-A to Triple-A, so getting the call to join the big-league team was stunning.

Now imagine how his family felt.

“We knew he was going to be called up to Triple-A, so we were planning on meeting him in Virginia on Thursday,” his mother Robin told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution during his MLB debut Wednesday. “But then when he called – we were on our way home from a wedding, our other son (Mason) got married in Missouri – we’d just hit the Michigan border and this was Monday morning, he was like, ‘Hey, how do you feel about meeting me in Atlanta on Wednesday?’ And we were like, ‘What?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I’m starting for the Braves on Wednesday.’ We were so ecstatic. It was a dream come true for all of us.”

This was a long-time coming for Schwellenbach, even if it happened remarkably fast to outsiders. The Braves drafted him out of Nebraska in 2021 (No. 59 overall) and he underwent Tommy John surgery shortly after, knocking him out for the next season.

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Schwellenbach had just 110 minor-league innings before taking the mound at Truist Park, where he mostly impressed. He pitched four scoreless frames before Nationals outfielder Lane Thomas punished a mistake into a three-run homer. That was all he allowed in five frames, adding five strikeouts with one walk in a 7-2 loss.

“We’re really proud of him,” Robin said. “He’s such a hard worker. He’s so dedicated to the game. Ever since he was a little boy, he’s always taken baseball so seriously. I knew that he would do whatever he could do to persevere and get over that Tommy John surgery and do whatever he had to do to make it. We weren’t expecting it to be this quickly.

“His big joke was, ‘Are you going to come to Mason’s wedding or are you going to watch me come pitch for the Braves if they call me up that weekend?’ And it wasn’t too far off. Definitely exciting.”

The night was more significant for its occurrence than its result. He had 12 family members, including his parents, and estimated about another 13 friends in the stands at Truist Park. “It just means a lot that they would come out for me,” he said.

Schwellenbach has shown himself as an exceptional talent dating back to age 6, when his little league adjusted its guidelines to allow him to play with kids two years older than him.

“They had to start changing the rules so he could play in a higher division because they didn’t want him to hurt other kids,” Robin said. “We kind of knew at that point he had something special. Plus, he wanted to play all the time. He always played two age groups up when he started playing.”

Schwellenbach stood out in Saginaw, Michigan, a town of roughly 44,000 located an hour-and-a-half north of Detroit. Famous natives include Stevie Wonder, LaMarr Woodley and Draymond Green. But when a young Schwellenbach faced an upper-tier team in Detroit, it became clear he needed an even larger platform.

“We went to a tournament in Detroit with his Saginaw team and almost beat one of the best teams in the state,” Robin said. “Spencer was pitching, and after the game, the coach came and said, ‘We need him on our team next year.’ Then he ended up switching and playing for the Motor City Hit Dogs in Detroit when he was 12. That’s the kind of point where we knew we had to challenge him a little more than what he was getting in our smaller town.”

Of course, in the years before Schwellenbach received greater exposure, he was coached by his future fiancée’s father. Shelby Vondette, the love of Schwellenbach’s life, was there all along, even before the pair started dating midway through high school.

“It’s definitely crazy,” Shelby told The AJC from the Truist Park stands. “He’s worked his entire life for this. I’ve even luckily been part of it for seven years. My dad coached him in little league. So I’ve kind of been on the journey even longer than seven years. It’s exciting to see it come to life.”

Shelby was Schwellenbach’s first call when he’d heard the news. “That was so awesome,” she said. “I’m not a crier, but I was immediately shaking. I was driving from Double-A Mississippi to – at the time I thought – Gwinnett. I was already on the drive and it was just like, ‘You’re kidding.’ That was my only thing, ‘You’re kidding?’”

After the game, Schwellenbach explained what Shelby and her family’s support has meant to him.

“She’s been awesome,” he said. “Her dad coached me when I was 9, 10, 11, 12. He helped me out through little league. Shelby has been my rock for the last however many months, moving around. The wives, fiancées, girlfriends sometimes get overlooked, but they’re always there for us and make everything smooth.”

It remains to be seen how many more opportunities Schwellenbach will have in the immediate future – Braves manager Brian Snitker was noncommittal – but he’s finished the most anticipated one. And the people who mean most to him were there for it, just as they’ve been there for him the entire way.