It’s the end of June, mere weeks from the All-Star Game’s online sports betting rush, and World Series odds are heating up fast — but who are we, if not a fanbase who stops to appreciate a feel-good story when it lands in our lap?
Nine years after being the first overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, pitcher Mark Appel made his big league debut for the Philadelphia Phillies Wednesday night, throwing a scoreless inning against the Oakland Athletics. He was met with his teammates cheering from the dugout, a standing ovation from the home crowd, and his brother and sister-in-law applauding alongside the fans.
Mark Appel records his first MLB strikeout! His brother and sister-in-law are pumped pic.twitter.com/ggmyTnFQ5W
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) June 30, 2022
So what took Appel so long to reach the majors?
Grinding in the Minors
Appel was initially drafted by the Houston Astros in 2013, quickly finding his feet in the organization’s minor leagues. In his debut season, Appel pitched 38 innings with a 3.79 ERA and 33 strikeouts, which was impressive enough to get him an invitation to the 2014 Astros’ spring training as a non-roster player. After that, things seemed to be hunky-dory for the pitcher — until they weren’t.
Appel’s woes began in January 2014, when an appendectomy delayed his preparations for the season and saw him reassigned to the minor league camp for his spring debut. He then found himself rattling around in the Astros’ farm system, and despite the brief highlight of being selected to play in the 2015 Futures Game, Appel seemed to struggle to keep up. With the Fresno Grizzlies of the Class AAA Pacific Coast League, Appel finished the 2015 season with an underwhelming 4.48 ERA in 12 starts.
In a multiplayer deal, Appel was traded to the Phillies on December 12, 2015. He began the 2016 season with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Triple-A), but a shoulder injury saw him land on the disabled list in June. While rehabbing his shoulder, Appel injured his elbow, requiring him to undergo season-ending surgery to remove a bone spur.
Despite the string of undeniably bad luck, things seemed to be looking up when the Phillies added Appel to their 40-man roster after the 2016 season. He started 2017 with Lehigh Valley before his career took yet another hit — Appel injured his shoulder again in July and didn’t return to the mound until September.
He ended the season with a 5.14 ERA in 17 games, and the Phillies designated him for assignment on November 20, 2017.
Appel announced he would be taking an indefinite break from baseball on February 1, 2018. The 26-year-old told Bleacher Report at the time, “I don’t know what the future holds. I’m pursuing other things, but also trying to become a healthy human.”
He continued, “I’m a guy who loves a game, who had expectations, goals and dreams and then has had everything tumbling, and then everything was unmet. Would I have loved to be pitching in the World Series? Absolutely. Some people have real struggles. I played baseball. I thought I was going to be great, and I wasn’t.”
Don’t Call It a Comeback
After three seasons out of the game, Appel reappeared in March 2021, making his debut in the minor leagues for the Reading Fightin Phils on May 8. He was quickly promoted back to his former team of Lehigh Valley, and after earning a 1.61 ERA in 19 appearances this season, it finally happened — on June 29, Mark Appel made his major league debut at 30 years old.
Appel’s first MLB pitch induced a lineout from Atlanta’s Marcell Ozuna. After allowing one hit, he built a 1-2 count on Adam Duvall before striking him out with a 97 mph fastball. A groundout from Philip Gosselin ended the scoreless inning. It was an undeniably emotional night for Appel, the Phillies, and even a certain BetMGM writer who just really loves a heartwarming tale of perseverance.
“Everyone has their own path,” Appel told the MLB Network after his debut. “Some guys are quick to the majors and become the superstars. Some guys are grinders in the minors and finally get their shot… Getting to see the reception I got in the dugout, it felt like I was just being brought into this fraternity of big league ball players, and yeah, it was hard to hold back tears.”
So what’s the lesson here? Never give up, friends. This one got me right in the feels.