Estrada's life-altering scare that reshaped MLB journey

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When Jeremiah Estrada got to the hospital, he thought he might die.

“I tried not to think of the worst,” Estrada said. “But then again, at that moment, when I entered the hospital, I was like, 'This is a moment to think of the worst.'”

Of the 15 major-league debuts the Cubs have had this season, Estrada’s in Toronto last week is perhaps the most remarkable considering where he was a year ago.

Last August, Estrada was in Low-A with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, a long way from home in Southern California, never mind the big leagues.

He was already sidelined with an elbow issue — two years after undergoing Tommy John surgery — when he was hospitalized with a severe bout of COVID-19.

“It was definitely one of the scariest moments in my life,” said Ramiro Estrada, Jeremiah’s dad. “It was a scary situation. We were worried. It was unexpected.”

Jeremiah called his family to let them know he tested positive and started quarantining. And based on his initial symptoms, he thought his case of COVID wasn’t going to be too bad. There were a couple of days early after his positive test he “felt nothing.”

“And after I felt nothing,” Jeremiah said, “the next day I started to feel it a bit more and that's when it just all hit me on the seventh day.

“It was just the worst feeling ever. Lost a lot of weight, felt a lot of pain. Other than just hurting my elbow, it's been the worst pain in my life.”

While Jeremiah’s family was ready to go cross country to assist him, he and team trainers instructed them to stay back because the virus was raging in Myrtle Beach. 

He was soon hospitalized.

“Once I got picked up by the ambulance, there was a time where I hit the bed and I couldn't breathe,” Jeremiah said. “Couldn't talk. Couldn't do nothing. Couldn't function at all. Couldn't text. Couldn't answer phone calls. 

“I felt bad for those who were calling me, and it just went on. My dad was trying to call me. I was just like, ‘I can't breathe. I have a whole mask on my face. I can't talk.’ Any word that comes out, I felt like I had to take three breaths right after that.”

Jeremiah said he spent two weeks in the hospital and didn’t eat. He woke up one day with a light appetite and ate some graham crackers.

“That was when I felt like, 'OK, things are getting better,'" he said. "'I still feel sick, still feel all the pain, but I'm able to eat now.'"

Jeremiah was moved to a more comfortable room as his appetite returned, and while he still felt pain and had symptoms, he no longer was testing positive for COVID.

After a week, his stepmom flew out to Myrtle Beach to take care of him.

Jeremiah returned to the mound this spring and has been dominant. He posted a 1.30 ERA in 34 appearances between three minor-league levels with 78 strikeouts in 48 1/3 innings.

It earned him his first big-league promotion during the Cubs’ series in Toronto last week as a substitute player. He threw a scoreless inning with a pair of strikeouts and was added to the 40-man roster as a September callup.

On Tuesday he hosted a group of family and friends at Wrigley Field.

"We give all of the glory to our God and our savior, Jesus Christ," Ramiro said. "We're Bible-believing Christians, and we just praise him for all the blessings, because it's a blessing.

"He got COVID last year and lost 25 pounds and came home. I just thank the Cubs organization for giving him the opportunity, number one, and for taking care of him."

A few days ago, Jeremiah's phone alerted him of a photo he took exactly one year ago, of him and his hospital wristband.

“I looked at it and I was just like, ‘Dude you were just there last year, in low-A baseball, about to die,’” Estrada said. “And now you're waking up each day. You’re still in the minor leagues. And then you wake up and you're like, ‘Dude, you're in the big leagues.'

“'You've made it this far. God's blessed you.' He's kept me healthy all year, my first year ever healthy. It’s hard to believe, man.”

Jeremiah said he can’t remember the last night he slept a full eight hours. Getting to where he is now, after what he went through, has his mind looking forward.

“Every day I’ve just been thinking about what am I gonna do the next day to be a better pitcher,” he said. “What am I going to do next? Because all year you think about, 'What can I do to get myself to the big leagues?'

“And now that I'm here, I still tell myself, 'What am I going to do to stay in the big leagues?' Every day I just try to keep striving to be something better, because I knew where I was at last year.”

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