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A fighter, Pressly now fights on without his father

Twins reliever, an impressive Rule 5 pick, vows to pitch in honor of his biggest supporter

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- For Ryan Pressly, 2013 couldn't have been any more bittersweet.

On the field, Pressly proved he belonged in the big leagues, joining the Twins as a Rule 5 Draft pick from the Red Sox, and pitched well enough to remain on the roster all season. The right-handed reliever fared well in his first taste of the Majors, despite making the jump straight from Double-A, as he posted a 3.87 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings.

But off the field, it was much more difficult. Pressly found out in April 2011 that his father, Tom, was diagnosed with kidney cancer, and his condition worsened throughout the '13 season. Pressly, though, could always count on his dad for text messages that gave him words of advice before and after just about every game last season.

But now Pressly, 25, will have to get by without those inspirational messages, as Tom lost his battle with cancer on Nov. 1. Pressly said it's been a tough offseason as a result but that he plans on pitching in his father's honor next season and beyond.

"He always pushed me," Pressly said during the Twins' annual Winter Caravan. "Losing him this year hit me pretty hard and hit my mom pretty hard. It's just me and her now. He's always going to be on my shoulder and he'll always be looking down on me. I think the hardest part is going to be going back into the clubhouse and not seeing a text or a phone call from him."

But Pressly doesn't have to look far for a reminder of his father, as he got a tattoo on his wrist to pay tribute to him this offseason. The top of his wrist has "Dad" inscribed on it with Tom's date of birth and death, and the bottom is a matching tattoo his father got when he was diagnosed with cancer. The matching tattoo has a pair of boxing gloves intertwined with the cancer awareness ribbon.

"I asked him why he wanted to get boxing gloves, and he said, 'Because I'm a fighter and I raised you to be a fighter,'" Pressly said. "So it just clicked for me one day that I wanted to get that tattoo to honor him."

For all that was affecting him away from the ballpark, Pressly was able to tune to it out as a rookie and impressed in his first full season as a reliever.

His dad was even able to see the Twins in person, as his parents made the trip up to Target Field when Minnesota hosted the Red Sox in mid-May and made the short drive from the Dallas area to see the Twins play the Rangers in Texas.

It's something Pressly won't forget, as he has the comfort of mind knowing his father was able to see him pitch in the Majors in person.

"It was really cool having him up there," said Pressly, who threw two innings against the Red Sox on May 18 in front of his parents but didn't pitch in Texas.

It made sense for his family to see him pitch against the Red Sox given his ties to Boston after being selected from them in the Rule 5 Draft. It was in Boston's organization he made the switch to being a reliever during the '11 season, and led the Twins to seeing enough promise in him to draft him.

The Rule 5 Draft is always a gamble because a player has to be on the roster the entire season or else be offered back to the original club, but Pressly did his best to make the Twins, and manager Ron Gardenhire forget how they acquired him.

"Gardy told me that he didn't really think of me as a Rule 5 guy, so coming from him that was a huge compliment," Pressly said.

Pressly started his throwing program in mid-December, and now knows that it's like to get through a big league season. And with all that he went through both on and off the field in '13, Pressly believes he's stronger mentally than he's ever been.

Now, it's about working to get better in '14 and remembering all the advice his father gave him throughout the years, especially about never settling or getting too comfortable in the big leagues.

"I'm not going to rest on my stats from last year," Pressly said. "This is a new year and new competition. They can send me down this year but hopefully that doesn't happen. I'll come to Spring Training ready to go this year. I'm really looking forward to it."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger.
Read More: Minnesota Twins, Ryan Pressly