When things get tough, Mike Foltynewicz glances at his right hand and sees a jet tattooed on his finger.
Foltynewicz grew notorious for what some would call implosions on the mound. If a call didn’t go his way, if a break or two went against him, there were times Foltynewicz struggled to recover.
When the Braves acquired him from the Astros, they were adding a talented arm who was erratic but oozing with potential as a strikeout arm. It’s always been mental with him, scouts and evaluators opined over the years, and if he could harness his emotions, he could make the most of his rare physical abilities.
The road to the 2018 All-Star game was paved with highs and lows, no-hit bids and games of barely scraping by three innings. But Foltynewicz achieved it, and he walked on the red carpet Tuesday carrying the primary reason why.
Last offseason, the same day Foltynewicz lost his arbitration case – only a $100K difference less what the team offered – he became a father.
And perhaps by extension, he became an All-Star.
Mike and his wife, Brittany, welcomed their son Michael Jett Foltynewicz into the world Feb. 10. The arbitration case became an afterthought, and many of the mental hurdles plaguing Mike in the past became trivial.
The Foltynewicz family introduced Jett with an Instagram post that day, with Mike’s caption including “We can’t wait for him to meet everyone! Love you with all my heart little buddy!”
That love for his son has given Foltynewicz newfound motivation. When Jett was born, Mike had the name tattooed on his hand, along with the aforementioned jet. Brittany has the same jet inscribed on her arm, along with roman numerals representing her son’s birthday.
Foltynewicz is an All-Star because when he looks at his ink, he channels a calming presence he attributes to his son. It hasn’t been without the occasional hiccup, but Foltynewicz knows what’s prompted a change.
“I get in trouble, if a bad call happens or anything I can’t control happens, I look down at my finger,” he said, “and realize ‘OK, this ain’t worth it to get mad right now. It’s not worth it to do what I’m doing. Jett’s not going to think I’m cool, think I’m a good baseball player, if I’m out there complaining and looking like a poor loser out there.’ So I’ve really gotten that together. It’s slowed things down out there, and if something hits the fan, I look down at my fingers and just relax a little bit and focus on the pitch at hand.”
The right-hander owns a 2.66 ERA with 120 strikeouts in 18 starts (101-2/3 innings). He’s held opponents to a minuscule .193 average.
Foltynewicz hadn’t been able to meet all his All-Star teammates before the game, but he planned to do so during Tuesday’s event. It still hasn’t set in that he’s among the best pitchers in the senior circuit, he said.
The ‘humbling’ afternoon, as he defined it before the game, began when he walked the red carpet into Nationals Park. Foltynewicz wearing a light blue suit with sunglasses; Jett in his arms, donning a ‘Folty’ shirt and a backward hat.
Sharing those moments with his parents, who traveled 12 hours to see him, his wife and son are what Foltynewicz cherishes most.
“It means the world for my son and wife to be here,” he said. “Jett, he’s not old enough to realize what’s going on, but we’ll show him the pictures and talk about it and hopefully he gets to see an All-Star game in the future when he’s a little bit older.
“It just means the world to me. This is his first year of life and for me to be able to do all this stuff, it’s really because of him. The drive is because of my little son. It’s been an awesome year and hopefully we can continue that fun in the second half.”
Foltynewicz was the third National League pitcher to enter the game, pitching the fourth inning after fellow National League East starters Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom handled the first few.
Despite insisting he was nervous, Foltynewicz fired a 98 mph fastball for a strike to Jose Ramirez. He struck out Ramirez on three pitches.
After walking slugger Aaron Judge - Brittany’s favorite player - Foltynewicz got Manny Machado to pop up to third, and Jose Abreu to fly out to center.
When he took the mound, maybe being an All-Star finally resonated. But more important to Foltynewicz, he looked over and saw his family, saw the reason he was there.
And after recording the third out, he signaled an “I love you” sign to the contingent, completing his latest title: father, son, husband and All-Star.