Embry Powers His Way Back Onto MLB Radar

by Alix Fried - “Everyone has a crazy story about how they made it,” says Byron Embry, a right-handed veteran pitcher playing his first season with the Kansas City T-Bones. “For me, I grew up poor, batting rocks in the backyard… got drafted and sent to the minors… went to the majors… got injured again… and now here I am.” Embry’s first season with the Kansas City T-Bones is not his first experience with Kansas City teams; for the majority of the 2005 baseball season, Embry played in Omaha for the Kansas City Royals’ AAA team.

At the age of 20, Embry was drafted out of Indian Hills Community College by the Atlanta Braves. He spent three years in the Braves system, advancing as far as class A, before being released. The organization told him he had lost his identity as a pitcher; he wasn’t pitching as hard or as accurately as he had been in college. Embry was released from the Braves organization and began playing in the Northern League.

But Embry still wasn’t throwing hard or throwing well. By the end of the 2001 season, Embry was suffering from bone spurs in his pitching elbow. He underwent surgery in September and spent the rest of the off season preparing to pitch. His first night back after the surgery, he pitched a 94 mph fastball. “I had lost who I was,” says Embry. “Then the way I was in college started to click and started to come back.”

After one simple change from a pitching coach, slow down and throw downhill, Embry saw his best season in 2004 for Lincoln. And the calls from major league teams started pouring in. There was one offer he couldn’t refuse: the Kansas City Royals offered to place him on their AAA team in Omaha with the chance to attend spring training camp to try out for their major league team. Embry fainted, and then accepted the offer from Kansas City. He was the third player in the history of the Northern League to go straight to a Triple-A team.

During spring training, Embry proved he has what it takes to be a major league pitcher. He bought himself more time, extending his stay with the Royals and increasing his chances of pitching for their major league team. He went with the Kansas City club to Houston for an exhibition game, not expecting to pitch. He says he was like a deer in the headlights throughout the whole trip.

Embry says he was overwhelmed when he walked onto the diamond to watch batting practice. “My mom sacrificed everything to get this for me,” says Embry. “She was the one who played catch with me, who picked crops for extra money.” And in front of a television audience of 35,000, which included most of his friends and family, Embry pitched the ninth inning of the exhibition game, picking up a save against Roger Clemens. “I never wanted to play another minor league game,” says Embry. “It’s like I had the best steak of my life… and I want to go back to that restaurant.”

But it was back to Omaha for Embry. And, after bone spurs returned to his arm, Embry was released from the Kansas City Royals before the end of the summer. He returned to the Lincoln Saltdogs to finish out the season but chose to sign for 2006 with the T-Bones. “I saw that Pearson and Peterson were coming and that’s all I needed to know,” says Embry. Embry, now healthy and strong, is tied for the Northern League lead in saves with nine and has struck out fourteen of the last eighteen batters he has faced.

As for the Kansas City T-Bones, Embry “loves being here… it’s different than the minors, but it has a AAA atmosphere with the fans and the stadium.” He wants to help the T-Bones win, but his dreams and goals still lay in the major leagues. “I’m here to prove that I’m healthy, that I’m the same guy who pitched to Todd Walker and against Roger Clemens,” says Embry. “And I’m not going to sleep until I’m back.”

Alix Fried is a recent graduate of the University of Kansas with a degree in journalism. She has been an intern with the T-Bones since January.

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