Living the dream; Baseball's been good to Herum, Feyereisen
Marty Herum recalls sifting through the dirt on the pitcher’s mound in Marshfield looking for J.P. Feyereisen’s teeth.
“He got smoked,” Herum said about the line drive that caught Feyereisen directly in the mouth during a 2010 high school tournament game.
Turns out Feyereisen’s teeth were in his mouth the whole time, lost in the tangle of the teenager’s braces and the blood spewing from his lower lip.
Two days later, teeth straightened courtesy of a Marshfield dentist and sporting a bruised and swollen lower lip, Feyereisen returned to the mound in River Falls and pitched two scoreless inning of relief and Herum hit a grand slam to help the Wildcat baseball team sweep a doubleheader from Rice Lake.
The talent, passion and determination displayed by both players in high school has taken them all the way to the professional baseball level.
Feyereisen, age 21, was taken by the Cleveland Indians in the 16th round of the 2014 Major League Baseball draft in June and recently returned to River Falls after playing for the Indians’ short-season Class A team—the Mahoning Valley Scrappers—in Niles, Ohio.
Herum, 22, is coming off an all-star season with the Class A South Bend Silver Hawks after signing a free agent contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks in July, 2013.
Their former high school and American Legion coach, Ryan Bishop, is not surprised by the pair’s success.
“I've watched J.P. and Marty mature from little league to professional baseball,” Bishop said. “The one thing that stands out to me more than anything else is their passion for being challenged; to not be afraid to fail, but rather get back up and work even harder. These two guys have done it the right way through hard work and determination, and are great role models for our River Falls youth.”
The two former Wildcats have known each other since Feyereisen was a first grader and Herum was a second grader at Greenwood Elementary School.
The pair played Little League ball together and went on to star at River Falls High School and with the American Legion Post 121 team. They played two summers together with the River Falls Fighting Fish amateur team before Herum headed to UW-Whitewater to play baseball and Feyereisen ended up at UW-Stevens Point a year later.
Feyereisen recalled one of the first times he faced his former teammate in college. “They wanted me to pitch him outside but I knew that’s where he liked it,” he recalled. “I shook off the sign twice and they kept giving it to me, so I threw it where they wanted and he hits a home run. I just looked in the dugout and said, I told you!”
Herum went on to earn his second straight Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) Player of the Year award that year while Feyereisen was named the WIAC Pitcher of the Year. It marked the first time in history two players from the same hometown were named the WIAC position player and pitcher of the year in the same season.
Just a week after being named the tournament MVP while leading the Post 121 American Legion team to the 2011 state title, Feyereisen was the winning pitcher, and Herum the starting shortstop, for the River Falls Fighting Fish in the championship game of the 2011 Wisconsin Baseball Association State Tournament.
“It was pretty sweet, especially playing with the older guys,” Feyereisen said about his time with the Fish. “I learned so much from them—Brummy (Nathan Brom) and (Josh) Eidem and (Joel) Schaffer. Coming in as a young high school player, they show you that baseball is more than a game; it’s a lifestyle.”
“They respect the game and they teach you to respect it,” Herum added. “There’s guys in pro ball that don’t even do that.”
Feyereisen went on to pitch for the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters in the prestigious Northwoods League in the summer of 2013, earning a spot in the league’s all-star game in Eau Claire that July. Ironically, the same Major League scouts who watched Feyereisen pitch in the game ended up signing Herum to a free agent contract a few days later, thanks to former Arizona Diamondbacks farmhand and Wildcat co-head coach Mark Hallberg.
Hallberg called his former organization and told them they needed to stop in River Falls while they were in Wisconsin to check out a hard-hitting infielder for the local amateur team.
After putting Herum through a private workout, the scouts traveled to the Fighting Fish game in Blaine, Minn. that night where Herum proceeded to go 5-for-5 with two triples, a double and five RBI. They offered him a contract the next day and he was on a plane to Arizona two days later.
“He set the whole thing up,” Herum said about Hallberg. “I couldn’t have done it without him.”
Feyereisen, a starter at UW-Stevens Point, grabbed the attention of major league scouts as the Rafters closer in the Northwoods League, setting a franchise record with 11 saves in 2013. After going 5-3 at Stevens Point this past spring he became the 488th overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft, taken by the Cleveland Indians in the 16th round.
“It’s been fun,” Herum said about playing professional baseball. “Not many people get to play pro baseball so it’s literally a dream come true.”
“Living the dream,” he said. “You can’t ask for much more than to play baseball for a living and come home and hang out with your friends.”
Both players said they owe a lot to the baseball community in River Falls, especially Bishop.
“Bishop is kind of like a second dad,” Feyereisen said. “I talk to him at least twice a week. We talk about hunting and baseball and whatever, just life. The whole Bishop family is great.”
Herum completed his first season of minor league ball this past summer at South Bend, batting .273 with five home runs and 38 RBI while earning a spot in the Midwest League All-Star Game.
Feyereisen reported to the Indians’ short-season affiliate in Mahoning Valley of the New York-Penn League in June and didn’t allow a run in 15 appearances as the Scrappers’ closer. He finished with a record of 3-0 with four saves, 24 strikeouts and just one walk in 17 innings of work.
“It’s pretty cool,” Feyereisen said about pitching for the Scrappers. “When I walked into the stadium the first time it was huge. We’d play in front of maybe 150 people at Stevens Point. Now it’s 9,000 or more a night. And the only thing you focus on is baseball, that’s the coolest part. You don’t have to worry about school or other distractions; just baseball.”
While both players are focused on their baseball careers, finishing college remains high on their list of priorities. Both signed contracts that call for their respective teams to pay their tuition when they return to school.
“It was part of the team’s offer to play baseball,” Herum said. “School will always be there and I 100 percent want to graduate.”
“They want us to go back to school and finish,” Feyereisen added. “They give you plans to make sure you finish.”
For now the two minor leaguers are working through the offseason—Herum at Anytime Fitness in River Falls and Feyereisen at the Riverfront Athletic Club in Hudson—before reporting for spring training in late February. Both are determined to keep climbing the ladder to the major leagues.
“It definitely makes you work twice as hard,” Herum said. “You’ve got six teams to go through before the big leagues, and you have to earn it.”
Feyereisen got a taste of the Cleveland Indians spring training complex this fall when he was one of just a handful of players invited to the teams Fall Instructional League in Goodyear, Ariz. Shortly before he was set to leave in September, life threw him a curveball.
“They found some lumps in my neck and the trainer said I should get it checked out,” he explained. “So I went to the doctor when I got home and they did an MRI and the doctor said he was 98 percent sure it was cancer—lymphoma. I had a needle biopsy and it came back as a reactive lymph node. Then I had surgery and they took out a whole lymph node and there was no cancer. They said it was a reactive lymph node, probably from an infection I had. It was a pretty scary couple of weeks, but everything’s good—100 percent.”
Their old coach Bishop continues to be impressed with the pair.
“What I'm most proud of J.P. and Marty for is that they know who they are and where they came from,” he said. “They're not only professional athletes, but they're also the type of person you hope your own kid turns out like. If there's one thing I hope our own youth can take from their story, it's to always dream big. No matter what anyone tells you, only you can decide the fate of your dream. If you want it bad enough you'll find a way to make it happen.”
Herum and Feyereisen are proof of that.