When Brandon Waddell learned that the Pittsburgh Pirates were bringing him up to their active MLB roster, he quickly wanted to call his loved ones.
His dream moment didn’t go quite as he drew it up in his head.
“Mine didn’t really turn out ideally,” Waddell laughed. “I called my mom, I called my dad, I called my sister, and none of the three answered.”
Eventually, the former Virginia pitcher reached his family. He shared calls with all three before turning his attention toward joining the Pirates and making his MLB debut.
“By the time I got a hold of everybody, it was awesome,” Waddell said. “It was really cool to share. They were obviously very excited, and it was just a cool moment to share. It’s kind of hard to put into words.”
Waddell’s debut came on Aug. 14 against the Cincinnati Reds. While the Pirates lost 8-1, Waddell saw his first MLB action, marking a significant moment in his professional career.
His long road to the majors has included multiple seasons at the minor league level since leaving UVa in 2015.
Eventually, the grind paid off.
Despite the challenging road to the highest level facing professional baseball players, Waddell embraced the many seasons it took to reach the top of the game.
“No matter what field it is in the world, if you have a job where you get to what you love to do every day, it’s something you can’t really take for granted,” Waddell said.
Appearing in an MLB game brings with it plenty of pressure.
Waddell spent a few days with the team before appearing in a game, which he said helped him acclimate to the top level of professional baseball, but he had to wait toward the end of the Aug. 14 contest to take the field.
The Pirates called his number in the seventh inning.
“That phone rings, your heart gets beating a little bit faster, you start mentally getting going,” Waddell said of the call to the bullpen. “That first one you gotta take some breaths.”
Nerves took over after Waddell realized he’d take the field.
He did his best to slow down to breathe and remain in the moment, but the stage, even without a packed stadium because of COVID-19, can make even the finest athletes anxious.
“I felt it, especially on the jog in from the pen, but when I got to the mound I kind of took a moment and looked around and took some breaths and tried be like, ‘Alright, here we go, let’s focus, it’s time to get the job done,’” Waddell said.
After he found the strike zone, Waddell managed to settle in.
The left-handed pitcher tossed 1 1/3 innings, allowing two hits and a run in his first action. He struck out two batters.
“First and foremost, it was a lot of fun,” Waddell said. “It’s something that you dream about your whole life and you work towards, and to be able to accomplish that is really cool.”
Waddell appeared again, on Aug. 20. This time, he logged two shutout innings in a 2-0 loss to Cleveland.
The former UVa star has just a few innings of major league experience under his belt, but he wants to stay focused on what got him to the big leagues in the first place.
He’s hopeful to earn more time with the Pirates either at the end of the regular season or in future seasons.
Waddell wants to continue working on his craft in hopes of becoming a regular member on the active roster.
He credits his time at UVa for helping him eventually reach the major leagues and still feels a close connection to the school and coaching staff as he embarks on additional professional endeavors.
Some former teammates and many coaches reached out to Waddell following his MLB debut, sharing in the moment.
“I grew so much as a baseball player at Virginia and with those guys the three years that I was there,” Waddell said. “That coaching staff, you know, I honestly would not be the same baseball player I am today without them. To hear from all those guys and to kind of share that moment with them as well, I think it’s something that’s really, really special.”
A month after making his first MLB appearance, Waddell appreciates the moments earlier in his life that led to him fulfilling his childhood dream.
“If I don’t get the opportunity to play there, and that coaching staff doesn’t give me that opportunity, who knows where I’m at today,” Waddell said. “It’s a really cool event, but at the end of the day, it’s really a culmination of a lot of other events that have come together.”
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