Sharon Wade was watching a movie in her bedroom when the phone rang. The late-night call itself wasn’t a surprise. Tyrell Jenkins, her only child, always called his momma after his minor league games. But Wade knew something was up when Jenkins could hardly speak through the tears. He said something about moving. Then he composed himself enough to get it out.
“They’re moving me to the big leagues, Momma.”
“I screamed,” Wade said. “My husband said, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘It’s Tyrell. They’re moving him to the big leagues.’ We both just boo-hooed on the phone for about five minutes.”
Later, Jenkins Tweeted, “Momma we did it”
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Back on Memorial Day, I spent some time with Jenkins, the newest Atlanta Brave (at least as of Saturday morning) and one of the building blocks for the future …
▪ At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, he looks like an NFL quarterback. And, if not for baseball and a $1.3 million signing bonus from the St. Louis Cardinals, he just might have made it to the NFL. Baylor signed him in 2010 as the heir apparent to Robert Griffin III. He also excelled in track and basketball in Henderson, Texas.
“But I think his heart was always in baseball,” Wade said.
▪ Jenkins exudes confidence and humility at the same time. He remembers his roots. He heeds the advice to stay focused on the daily process of getting better.
“Day by day, pitch by pitch,” as he puts it.
That advice resonates a little more when it comes from Adam Wainwright, who took Jenkins under wing when he was with the Cardinals.
“He just keeps me in line and focused on the goal, and that’s to be the best pitcher I can be,” Jenkins said.
At the time of our interview, Jenkins had just pitched a gem the night before, but he was still waiting on the call to Atlanta. That afternoon, Mike Foltynewicz pitched brilliantly and Williams Perez was on a roll. With Julio Teheran established, Matt Wisler improving and Aaron Blair having some success, it would have been easy for Jenkins to get discouraged and wonder when his time would come.
But he remained positive and happy for his friends.
“You see guys go up and down and you’re just waiting to see when your turn is,” he said. “We all pull for each other, cheer for each other. I got excited when Blair and Folty went up knowing we all started this year together. It’s good to see your teammates go up and do well.”
Then he found out what it’s like to be on the other end of a sharp curveball. Braves management called him in and told him they were moving him to the bullpen. Despite the Braves’ efforts to paint it as a positive — a quicker path to the big leagues — Jenkins took it as a demotion. His mother told him to call Rocky Baker, a baseball coach and family friend in Henderson. Baker reiterated what the Braves told him.
“We talked for about 15 minutes and he felt better,” Baker said. “He’s a very smart young man.”
Baker has known Jenkins since he was a young boy dominating every sport he played.
“He’s just a natural athlete,” Baker said. “Good hitter, good fielder. As a pitcher, when he let the ball go you could tell he was something special. ... His work ethic has always been very, very good.”
“I feel like prepare yourself daily,” Jenkins said. “Playing catch, your bullpens, running, weight-lifting, your daily routine. Everything else handles itself. You know that you’re prepared each outing. It’s just a matter of executing and getting the better of your opponent that day. Those guys are going to bring it every day. As long as you’re prepared, you have a good chance of keeping your team in the game.”
That work ethic “comes one hundred percent from his momma,” Baker said. “That woman pulled everything out of him. Tough love. She’s tough, too.”
Tough enough to beat breast cancer. It’s always been just the two of them. She said Tyrell’s father was never in the picture. So he helped cook, clean, fold laundry or whatever. He was in high school when Sharon was diagnosed with cancer.
“He came to the hospital and knelt down by my bed and prayed for me,” she said.
She prayed, too. “Lord, I’m not ready to go. I have to be here and raise my child.”
Wade is now in remission without the need for treatment. She had 11 siblings but five of them have died, including one sister exactly one week before Jenkins was called up to The Show.
“He and I have been through a lot together,” Wade said. “We have a verse, ‘I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.’ We say it to each other.”
That foundation and support helped him get through adversity in the minor leagues. He pulled a lat muscle twice, the second time requiring surgery. Just when he was regaining his confidence, Jenkins was traded with Shelby Miller for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden. The trade upset many Braves fans who hated to lose Heyward.
Jenkins will turn 24 next month. It’s been six years and six minor league stops since he was drafted 50th overall by St. Louis in 2010. Baseball keeps him away from his own children, Kylee Grace, 5, and Zane, 4, for more than half the year.
“It’s been a long road.”
A few tears are certainly understandable.
Guerry Clegg: firstname.lastname@example.org, @guerryclegg