MILWAUKEE -- Even as he banged down the Major League door last week in Memphis, a final rehab start for the ages under his belt, Alex Reyes refused to look ahead. Not until he stepped back on a big league mound, felt the dirt under his spikes and the energy in the stands, would he consider his arduous journey back from Tommy John surgery truly complete.
Now, that day has arrived. The Cardinals' No.1 prospect will make his first Major League start since September 29, 2016, Wednesday afternoon against the Brewers at Miller Park in a game airing exclusively via Facebook Live. It's a return more than 15 months in the making, and anticipation has crept past the walls of the Cardinals' clubhouse. Text messages buzzed into Reyes' phone this week from St. Louis, where Adam Wainwright is nursing an elbow injury, offering congratulations and encouragement. Further evidence then arrived via Elizabeth, New Jersey, ensuring Reyes' finish line qualified as a family affair.
"It feels like it's just another one," Reyes' older brother, Tomas, said. "But this might be the biggest start of his life."
Reyes' father and older brother, both named Tomas, led a four-man caravan that traveled west to witness his return. Reyes can't remember the last time his father saw him pitch in person, the instances few and far between since Reyes left home as a high schooler to chase his big league dreams.
"My father was one of those guys who pushed me the most to go to the Dominican Republic, he's always been supportive with everything," Reyes said. "I feel like I've let him down a few times throughout my career, so being able to have him come out here to see me in a big league park, it kinda feels like I'm repaying him a little bit."
With scouting opportunities limited in the northeast for the then-third baseman, who played at the school where his father worked as a security guard, Reyes moved to the Palenque region in the Dominican, where he has relatives, to garner attention as a pitcher.
"We always attended all of his games [in New Jersey]," Tomas Reyes Sr. said. "So it was hard for me when he left. I flew seven times to go see him that year. It was hard for the whole family. But we thought that was the best for him at that moment."
Reyes caught the attention of Cardinals scouts by March 2012, then signed for a $950,000 bonus in December of that year. He was in the Majors less than four years later, going 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA down the stretch.
The last time Tomas saw his son pitch was during that dazzling 12-game debut, when Reyes beat the eventual World Series champion Cubs with 4 1/3 innings of relief on Sept. 13, 2016, at Busch Stadium. The younger Reyes may not remember. But fathers never forget.
"For me as a father, it's been a very, very long time," Tomas said. "I enjoy seeing how he performs. First I see him as Alex, my son. But I also love to see him play."
Said Alex Reyes: "I'm excited to go out there and give him something to be excited about."