Schwellenbach and family savor pitcher's dream come true

Righty makes MLB debut in front of 25 loved ones, who made long journey

May 30th, 2024

ATLANTA -- When learned he was jumping from Double-A to the Majors to join the Braves this week, he said he felt “totally taken off guard and very happy about it.” He wasn’t the only one surprised at the news, forced to reroute his travel plans, and thrilled to do it.

To witness his debut in person, Schwellenbach’s family also embarked on quite the last-minute journey. The Schwellenbachs are from Saginaw, Mich., about 800 miles and a 12-13 hour drive from Atlanta. So getting to Truist Park in a couple of days already would’ve been a haul.

But they weren’t in Michigan this weekend. They were in Missouri, where they’d congregated for Schwellenbach’s brother’s wedding, and were already on their way back north, when the phone rang. It was Spencer on the other end.

“Hey, can you be in Atlanta on Wednesday?”

One big, immediate U-turn and a few days later, a group of 25 friends and family were on hand to attend Schwellenbach’s big league debut, which with little run support and one bad pitch turned into a 7-2 loss to the Nationals. Flashing a five-pitch arsenal and a fastball that averaged 96 mph, the Braves’ No. 3 prospect really made only one mistake over the course of five solid innings, a three-run Lane Thomas homer in the fifth.

Otherwise, Schwellenbach looked far from green despite being the first Braves starter in 13 years to jump from Double-A to the Majors, since Randall Delgado in 2011.

“He handled himself really well,” manager Brian Snitker said. “The composure, slowing the game down. I thought he was very impressive.”

Summoned after only two starts at Double-A to replace the injured AJ Smith-Shawver in the rotation, Schwellenbach is only 13 months removed from his pro debut and arrived Wednesday with only 24 Minor League starts under his belt -- two above Class A.

How unusual is that rapid of an ascent? Think of the most big league ready pitching prospect in recent memory -- probably Paul Skenes. Skenes zoomed to the big leagues after 12 abbreviated Minor League starts. Schwellenbach made 24. The difference is only three months.

“It was a quick ride,” said his mother, Robin Schwellenbach, describing her son’s career arc, not the family’s actual drive. “Finding out in such short notice, we kinda didn’t even really have time to think about it. But we’re here and he’s so deserving.”

The journey to Truist Park was even crazier for Shelby Vondette, Schwellenbach’s fiancée and childhood sweetheart. In a span of a few days, Vondette drove from Chattanooga, Tenn., west to the Missouri wedding, then south back down to Mississippi before the news of Schwellenbach’s promotion broke. She was his first call. And then she jumped back in the car and drove east to Atlanta.

“The best word to describe it is probably chaotic,” she said. “This is his dream. This is what he’s playing for forever. I’ve known him since he played ball in Little League, so it’s really awesome to see it all be brought to life.”

Schwellenbach emerged from the Braves' clubhouse Wednesday night to a large gaggle of travel-worn supporters, including friends from Michigan he said he didn’t even know were coming. Most will embark on their return trip soon, but Vondette will remain in Atlanta for now, where it looks like her fiancé could get more chances to help the Braves plug their leaky rotation.

“It was really special,” Schwellenbach said. “Shelby has been my rock, for the past however many months, all the moving around. The wives, fiancées, girlfriends sometimes get overlooked, but they're always there for us, helping to make everything smooth.”