'I made it': Called up to the MLB, pitcher Jesen Therrien's lifelong dream comes true
6 years after he was drafted by the Phillies, 24-year-old from Montreal North has made big-league debut
At the beginning of every baseball season, Jesen Therrien sets himself some goals. One of those goals has always been to become a Major League pitcher.
A few weeks ago, on a Saturday night in front of his family and thousands of fans, the 24-year-old from Montreal North turned that goal into a reality.
The moment it sunk in, he said, wasn't when his manager told him he was going to the show. It was while he was warming up before his very first big league game.
"I looked in the stands and was like, 'Damn. I made it.' I was so proud of myself and happy to be on the field. All the hard work I put in since I was young, it really paid off," he told CBC News before a recent road game in Anaheim, Calif.
The path to becoming a bona fide MLB player is rarely straight. There are plenty of ups and more than enough downs.
But the way Therrien tells it, his promotion is no surprise — he's been working towards it most of his life.
Hooked from the age of 3
Jesen Therrien started down that path young — very young.
His mother, brother, uncles and grandfather are all baseball fanatics. His grandfather, Raymond Therrien, was his first coach, teaching him to play when Jesen was just three. He joined his first organized team at five.
"Since I was young … I was [watching] baseball games, and when I watched those games, I was like: that's what I want to do. I want to play in MLB."
Growing up in Montreal, where the baseball season isn't nearly long enough, Therrien found ways to get his fix.
At his high school, Édouard-Montpetit, his team played indoors during the winter. He played on multiple teams, including the junior national team.
In 2011, he was playing for Collège Ahuntsic, a Montreal CEGEP, or junior college, when he got an offer to play for a school in Texas.
He never went: soon after, he was drafted in the 17th round by the Philadelphia Phillies, and signed with them.
Éric Gagné pitches in
When Therrien began his professional career as a member of the Gulf Coast League Phillies, he was primarily a starting pitcher but was converted into a reliever in his second year.
According to Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development, it was clear from the start that Therrien was a good athlete and had a good arm, but he wasn't able to consistently throw his pitches for strikes.
They started seeing glimmers of consistency late last season, but Jordan said everything changed when he arrived at spring training earlier this year.
"From day one, we saw a different guy. He was spot on, and he's been spot on ever since he showed up," he said.
Without having spoken to him directly about it, Jordan said he thinks Therrien's work with Eric Gagné last off-season may have something to do with his newfound confidence.
Everything he and Therrien did at Gagné's home in Phoenix, Ariz. — whether it was a workout or a game of pickup basketball — was a competition, the two challenging each other to work harder and do better.
They also worked on the mental side of the game — positive thinking, visualizing pitches and getting Therrien to familiarize himself with his own abilities.
"Now he doesn't need talent. He's got all the tools in his mind, and he knows all he has to do is throw strikes and trust his stuff, and he's going to be successful," Gagné said.
Gagné called Therrien's two-seam fastball one of the nastiest pitches he's ever seen. The pitch, which sinks quickly as it approaches a hitter, and his wipeout slider are "two really good weapons he has total confidence in," Jordan said.
Jordan said the Phillies see Therrien as someone who will eventually be called upon late in games, in high-leverage situations.
"For me, he's a guy who has enough competitive fire in him that he likes to be in those situations."
A gift for his mom
For Therrien, this year started with a trip to Miami to join Team Canada at the World Baseball Classic in March. And while Therrien didn't pitch, Gagné says he still thinks it was important for him to play in a major league atmosphere.
Therrien started the season with the AA Reading Fightin Phils. Two months later, he was promoted to the Triple A Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
In 39 games in the minors this year, he posted a 1.41 ERA with 65 strikeouts and converted nine of 10 save opportunities.
The first person he called? His mother Linda, here in Montreal.
"She was so proud and happy," he said.
Then he phoned his older brother, then his grandfather — the people who have always pushed him to never settle, to always strive to be a better player.
There was no limousine or team jet waiting for Therrien after he was called up. He packed his things and drove roughly 50 minutes from Allentown, Penn., where the Triple A team is based, toward Philadelphia and his big league dream.
He took the mound for the first time the next day. His mom and brother flew to Philadelphia to watch his debut, when he pitched a scoreless sixth inning.
He gave the ball he used to strike out the Atlanta Braves' Micah Johnson, his very first strikeout, to his mother — a gift for the person who always believed in him.
Staring down MLB's best
He knows now isn't the time to rest on his laurels — he's ready to work to ensure he finishes the season with the team.
The coolest thing about his new job, he says, is that these days, the batters he is staring down from the mound are among the best there are.
"Now I know I am capable of getting them out, and I'm part of the best league in the world, and to face them is a blessing for me."