JP Feyereisen

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher JP Feyereisen of River Falls throws out the ceremonial first pitch in honor of his late uncle, Bob Kolashinski, as Kolashinski’s family looks on before the River Falls Fighting Fish amateur baseball game against the Faribault Lakers Wednesday night, July 14, at First National Bank of River Falls Field. Bob Burrows / Star-Observer photo

JP Feyereisen used to call his uncle, Bob Kolashinski, “Uncle Rub.”

“When I was little he bought a brand new boat and he’d always take me fishing,” he recalled. “So my dad started calling him ‘Rich Uncle Bob,’ and it turned into Uncle R-U-B and it stuck.”

Feyereisen, who made his Major League Baseball debut last season with the Milwaukee Brewers and now pitches for the Tampa Bay Rays, was back in his hometown this week during the all-star break and threw out the first pitch in honor of his late uncle before the River Falls Fighting Fish game against the Faribault Lakers Wednesday night, July 14, at First National Bank of River Falls Field.

Kolashinski, founder of Liberty Plumbing and a longtime volunteer at First National Bank of River Falls Field, died last August at the age of 65. Feyereisen’s old high school coach and River Falls Baseball Council vice president Ryan Bishop said the council has been looking for a way to honor Kolashinski since his passing, and with his big league nephew home for a few days, Wednesday night was the perfect time.

“Ever since last year when Bob passed on we've always wanted to have a chance to recognize him, but we wanted to do it the right way,” Bishop said. “Last year we couldn’t have crowds so we’ve been waiting to see if JP was going to be able to come home over the all-star break. And we didn't know because he’s had a pretty good year so far. So as soon as we found out he’d be home it was a no-brainer that we were going to try to get him up here and throw the first pitch in honor of his Uncle Bob. And that was what tonight was about. And it was the best of both worlds to be able to welcome JP home on our field and also recognize his Uncle Bob and all the contributions that he made to this ballpark.”

Feyereisen said it was special to have his entire family on hand to honor his late uncle in front of one of the largest crowds First National Bank of River Falls Field has seen in years.

“It's awesome to be able to honor Bob and also get to honor my dad too,” he said about his father Randy, who also spends countless hours volunteering at the ballpark. “I know how much work they put into this field. And seeing all these fans in the stands and having my Aunt Roxie out there with me, it’s pretty amazing.”

While Feyereisen’s main focus was on his late uncle, he also used the opportunity to thank his extended River Falls baseball family.

“Family is everything to me,” he said. “My Mom and Dad and everything they’ve done for me in my baseball career, and River Falls is like family. The Fish, the Legion, the high school, this baseball community is a huge family. And it's great to come back and be able to do this with them."

River Falls was happy to see Feyereisen as well. Despite the fact there was a baseball game going on, he was the main focus of the fans in the bleachers and on the plaza, many sporting Brewers or Rays jerseys. He spent the entire night signing autographs and posing for pictures and even joined the kids for the traditional postgame running of the bases that’s become a hallmark of Fighting Fish games

“That’s who JP is,” Bishop said. “That whole family there, they're all just giving people and that's why JP is where he is today, from growing up in that type of a family environment. That’s why he gave such heartfelt words out there, because it means a lot to him. And for the crowd here tonight to see how much it means to him-- that this is his home.”

Feyereisen, a 2011 River Falls High School graduate, is the first player ever from River Falls to play in the major leagues and was just the 10th Wisconsin-born player ever to suit up for the Brewers when he made his MLB debut at Wrigley Field in the 2020 season opener.

He appeared in six games during the shortened 2020 season before rising to a prominent setup role with the Brewers this year, bolstered by a 17-inning scoreless streak to start the season. At one point his jersey was the third best-seller on the team behind just Christian Yelich and Josh Hader.

“I’m sure the people in River Falls put me on that list,” he said.

A 16th round draft choice by the Cleveland Indians out of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2014, he was traded by the Brewers on May 21, along with fellow reliever Drew Rasmussen, to Tampa Bay for starting shortstop Willy Adames and relief pitcher Trevor Richards. Since joining the Rays he’s posted a record of 4-1 with a 1.40 earned run average and three saves in 18 appearances.

Feyereisen said he was surprised when Brewers’ manager Craig Counsell called him into his office and told him he had been traded, but he’s relishing his role with his new team.

“At first it was kind of a shock,” he said. “But they put you in high leverage roles right away. The first few days I was there, I was in the sixth inning in a tie game and I was in the ninth for my first save ever. So it's been pretty good.”

Feyereisen’s first career save came in his second game with the Rays, May 23 against Toronto. Just over a week later he earned his third save in New York against the Yankees, the team he spent three seasons toiling in the minor leagues with before getting traded to the Brewers in 2019. He said that one felt special.

“It was awesome,” he said. “I shouldn't say I wanted to stick it to them but they had me at one point in time and now I’m in there finishing the game against them. And I played with Gleyber (Torres), I played with (Miguel) Andujar, and I played with (Gio) Urshela for a little bit with the Indians. So getting all three of those guys out was great because I played with them, faced them and finished a game against them. So yeah, it was definitely a cool day.”

Feyereisen said he received a lot of messages from people back home saying it would be hard for them to root for the Brewers after he was traded. But he had a quick response.

“I said don't root against the Brewers because if they make the World Series and we make the World Series, I'm guaranteed a World Series ring,” he said with a smile. “So I said at least this year, you can still root for the Brewers. Next year. if you don't want to, then I won't care as much.”

One thing’s for sure. No matter who Feyereisen is playing for, that team will have a whole lot of fans in River Falls.

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