LOS ANGELES — For Brusdar Graterol, the jog from the bullpen gates might as well have been seven years long. But it was everything.
He stood on the mound at Dodger Stadium with the very reason he was standing there in the building. It had been seven years since he’d last seen his mother, Ysmalia, the main reason he chose baseball in the first place.
“She was a mother and father at the same time,” Graterol explained in Spanish. “And I’ve dedicated each second, each minute to her so my mom feels proud of me.”
For years, that meant doing so from a distance. Restrictions and the political climate in his native Venezuela have made visiting difficult, a hurdle that Graterol and his fellow Venezuelan teammates have endured in the pursuit of fulfilling their baseball dreams. For years, Graterol sought the necessary resources to allow his mother to visit the United States, even as he matriculated his way to the major leagues and onto an international stage. Then, the proper documentation finally came through.
Their reunion, at the airport Sunday after the Los Angeles Dodgers returned from a brief, division-clinching trip in Seattle, “left me paralyzed,” Graterol said. She remarked at how big her son had grown, big enough to fire triple-digit fastballs and emerge as one of the Dodgers’ most reliable relievers during the stretch run. Graterol struggled to get a word out. Only one real thought came out.
“I told her she smelled like home,” Graterol said.
When they’d last seen each other, Graterol was just a teenager with an electric arm. Ysmalia had last watched him pitch at 16 years old, a new arrival at the Minnesota Twins’ complex in the Dominican Republic. Her son is 25 now. He won a World Series. He got married and welcomed his first daughter, Aria, in April. Both were on hand along with Ysmalia on Tuesday night, sending Graterol photos from their club-level suite so Graterol would know where to look as he took the mound for the eighth inning. As his music played and his mother stood, Graterol reflected.
He retired the Detroit Tigers’ side in order on a tidy 13 pitches, signaled to the sky, then to his mother and did little to stop the tears that followed. All he could do was cry “out of happiness,” he said, digging himself into his glove as he walked off. His manager greeted him with a hug as Graterol pointed to where his mother was stationed. The weight of the moment was a boulder.
“I don’t know how they managed it,” Dave Roberts said. “It was really a special moment, one of the top that I’ve ever been a part of.”
Brusdar Graterol’s mom got to see her son pitch for the first time in the Big Leagues. 🥺 pic.twitter.com/pH9Z4Z3fYK
— MLB (@MLB) September 20, 2023
When Graterol returned to the dugout, he paced to the far end of the bench. Then he buried his face in a towel.
“A lot of emotion,” he said.
His teammates stopped to check on him. Kiké Hernández took a moment with him. Bench coach Danny Lehmann put his arm around him. Fellow Venezuelans David Peralta and Miguel Rojas offered hugs.
They understood. Peralta said he hasn’t been able to see his sister in quite some time. Rojas has gone years without being able to see family members, thankful he got to play in front of his mother, Norma, before she passed away due to breast cancer in January 2022.
“You guys have to understand, especially for Latin players, especially for Venezuelans, what we have to go through, it’s not easy for us to bring our family,” Peralta said. “We wish we could do it, but all this, whatever, situation we have, it’s hard for us to bring our families here. So to finally get the chance to do it, it’s a moment that you’ll never forget.”
“I’m really happy that he got to experience this moment because life is too short,” Rojas said. “You never know when it’s going to be your last day playing baseball or having your mom. … For me, that’s something you can really never take for granted because moments like that make the season even more special.”
So, they celebrated with him, first when he came back into the dugout and again as they mobbed the field as the Dodgers walked off the Tigers with a 3-2 win.
Afterward, Graterol brought his mother down on the field where he had realized their collective dream. They took photos together alongside her new granddaughter. After years of missing out on memories, they found one together.
“There were a lot of moments that she missed,” Graterol said. “When I debuted, she wasn’t here. When I got married, she wasn’t here. When my wife had our daughter, she wasn’t here. Those were difficult times. Thank God, we did it and she’s here.”
Her arrival has come just in time. Graterol’s emotional night extended his stretch of consecutive scoreless innings to 21, lowering his season ERA to 1.28. The flamethrowing right-hander has blossomed this season and is enjoying the best season of his career. A massive role in October beckons. Now he’ll have someone extra special in attendance.
“The goal,” Graterol said, “is to have her celebrate the World Series with us.”
(Photo: Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)