PHILADELPHIA – The past few months have been a whirlwind for Braves rookie left-hander Matt Marksberry, and that’s putting it mildly. Terrifying bus wreck, promotion from A-ball to Triple-A. And now, from Triple-A to the big leagues.
He was called to the majors from Triple-A Gwinnett on Thursday, barely one month after being promoted directly from high Single-A Carolina and bypassing Double-A, and only 2 ½ months after Marksberry was a passenger in the bus that flipped over on a North Carolina highway in the middle of the night on May 12.
Marksberry was one of the fortunate ones who escaped without significant injury.
“Yeah, it was more shock,” he said. “It was one of those things where it was just a scary moment, and I’m happy to be alive right now.”
Alive, and enjoying the most exciting time of his life.
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Barely one month after being promoted from A-ball to Triple-A, Marksberry was called to the big leagues. After the Braves traded starting pitcher Alex Wood and relievers Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan, they brought up three rookie pitchers from Gwinnett, Marksberry and two right-handers who’d already made their debuts this season, Ryan Kelly and Jake Brigham.
“They told me that if the trade went down, I’d be activated,” said Marksberry, 24, a 15th-round draft pick in 2013 out of Campbell University in North Carolina. “I was like, oh man. That’s one of these things, a surreal moment. Especially since I started the season out in high-A. It’s been unreal for me.”
Marksberry had a 2.74 ERA in a combined 33 appearances in the minors this season, with 43 strikeouts and 14 walks in 46 innings. He’s the first member of the Braves’ 2013 draft class to reach the major leagues, and the first player from Campbell to reach the majors since Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry finished his career in 1983.
When the season began, Marksberry had a realistic goal of being promoted to Double-A by season’s end.
“When I first got called up to Triple-A, honestly when they called me into the office and told me I was going up, I thought I was going to Double-A,” he said. “When they told me (Triple-A), I was like, oh man. They gave me an opportunity to go up there and I pitched well and they kept me up there. So I appreciate them for doing that.”
Brigham was being recalled regardless, so he was already in Philadelphia for Thursday’s series opener. But the other two rookies were told Wednesday to be ready to catch a flight from Atlanta to Philadelphia on Thursday afternoon once the trade was finalized.
Their flight was delayed, and Marksberry and Kelly didn’t land in Philadelphia until mid-game, arriving at Citizens Bank Park in the seventh inning.
They dressed quickly, and when manager Fredi Gonzalez made a pitching change with two out in the eighth inning, he saw Marksberry and Kelly jog past the mound on their way to the bullpen beyond right field. They were out there for four outs – the last out of the eighth inning, and the Braves’ at-bat in the ninth inning of a 4-1 loss.
“I mean, I had butterflies in my stomach running out (to the bullpen),” Marksberry said Friday afternoon, a few hours before Game 2 of the series. “I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like making my debut.” He laughed. “It was awesome. the crowd, and meeting the guys, all that stuff. I’m glad I had this opportunity right now to do what I’m doing.”
Five Carolina players and the team’s trainer, Joe Toenjes, were injured in the bus accident and treated at a hospital. Six players were later placed on the disabled list, forcing the postponement of a series and requiring the Mudcats to call up many players from low Single-A Rome to fill in.
Still, players were thankful that none suffered catastrophic injury, or worse. And the accident helped many of them put things in perspective, including Marksberry.
“It shows you that life’s short, and it’s the little moments in life and the people around you that matter,” he said. “Baseball is obviously secondary behind my family and all that stuff, so when that happened it’s one of those moments where you, like, think back and you respect the opportunities that you get and how blessed you are to be doing this for a living and a job, considering there’s a lot of other people out there who’d die to have this chance.
“So it was very humbling, and I think that experience made me a better person, and I think it also made my teammates better people. It showed us that, as a team, we can persevere over time and do what we have to do to come back.”