Fenway Park, built in 1912 and the oldest venue in Major League Baseball, was in its infancy when James Kaprielian’s ancestors escaped the wrath of the Ottoman Empire during the Armenian Genocide.
More than a century later and nearly one month after President Joe Biden became the first sitting US President to formally recognize the atrocities Kaprielian’s family survived as a genocide, the 27-year-old took center stage at Boston’s historic ballpark and pitched a gem in his first career start in the Major Leagues as a member of the Oakland Athletics.
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Since his debut, the highly-touted pitcher has made it look easy against some of baseball’s best. After getting his first win against the Red Sox on May 12 (a team that boasts one of the most prolific offenses in the Majors), the southern California native had another solid outing in Anaheim on May 21 in front of hundreds of friends and family. Then, in his next start on May 26, Kaprielian continued to dominate, pitching seven shutout innings in a winning game against the Seattle Mariners.
But the young righty knows the Major Leagues aren’t a walk in the park. The hurler had his first rough outing on Memorial Day, allowing four runs in less than four innings.
“I haven’t quite hit my expectations yet to be honest,” Kaprielian told reporters after his third start. “I still feel like I have a long way to go. Having a little bit of success in the big leagues is great, but I don’t feel like I’ve done anything quite yet. I’m not sure what the Athletics’ expectations are from me, but mine are a lot higher.”
Despite his success, Kaprielian’s road to the big leagues has been marred with adversity. In 2014, Kaprielian’s mother Barbera lost a hard-fought battle with breast cancer. A few years later, Kaprielian, who was drafted in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft by the New York Yankees after a stellar career at UCLA, battled through various injuries. This led to his Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in 2017. The operation delayed the Armenian-American’s progression through the minor leagues; he was traded from the Yankees to Oakland later that year. After three long years in the minors, Kaprielian finally made his Major League debut in 2020 as a relief pitcher before getting his first career start in Boston this season.
“I’ve been preparing for this for years. Since I got hurt, since I got Tommy John, there wasn’t a day where this wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to have success and be a starter in the big leagues and be one of the horses for the team wherever that is and that’s with the A’s, and I want to do that here,” said Kaprielian, “I just want to continue to get better, continue to learn and hopefully stay a part of this team and have continued success.”
Kaprielian’s father Doug has been a major proponent throughout his arduous journey to the Majors. When Kaprielian found out about his promotion from Oakland’s minor league affiliate in Las Vegas to the Majors, his first call was to his father, who flew to Boston from southern California to watch his son’s first career game. He was often seen on broadcast television, cheering on his son from the stands.
“It was definitely special,” Kaprielian said of his father’s support at the game. “He’s been there the entire way since I was a little kid up to this point. He’s seen a lot of the difficult times that I’ve gone through. For him to see me have some success at this level and get that start and get that win, I just know how excited and proud he was.”
Kaprielian’s paternal great-grandparents escaped the Armenian Genocide, fleeing to Ellis Island before settling in Michigan and later in California. Kaprielian is strongly aware of his Armenian heritage. When President Biden issued his official recognition from the White House, Kaprielian tweeted, “Our revenge will be to survive. 1915 never again. Proud day for the Armenians around the world. Take a breath.”
“For me, it was special because my 96-year-old grandma was able to hear this,” Kaprielian told the Weekly. “For me to just know what her parents and her entire ancestors have been through, I just know how special it was to her in general.”
While Kaprielian attempts to enjoy more success in the big leagues, he says he places a great deal of importance on learning more about his ancestors and Armenian history. He plans to use his platform as a professional baseball player to raise awareness on Armenian issues.
“I think for a lot of people in the Armenian community who see my last name when they’re flipping through the channel or I might be on TV, it’s a big deal. A lot of people have reached out to me on Twitter and recognized the small things I have said and said ‘thank you’ and how proud they are of me. Just being a young American-Armenian kid, I never really thought that this kind of platform would mean anything,” expressed Kaprielian, “I always just put myself as just another member of society who is trying to do their part. To realize that so many people can feel the impact of my words, it means a lot. That means it’s important for me to speak when the time is right and say the proper things.”
Kaprielian can perhaps share that platform with new teammate Cam Bedrosian, who was recently signed by the Athletics, becoming the second Armenian on the Oakland roster. Bedrosian’s father Steve was the recipient of the 1987 Cy Young Award and a World Series champion with the Atlanta Braves in 1991. The younger Bedrosian is trying to bounce back in Oakland after struggling with the Cincinnati Reds earlier this season. As a relief pitcher, Bedrosian has already found an ally in Kaprielian, as the two Armenians have established an immediate bond through their Armenian heritage.
“First day I met him, it was the first conversation,” Kaprielian recalled. “Cam’s a great guy, and we talked briefly about the food and culture. I think from what I know, we’re the two Armenians in baseball. He’s obviously had a heck of a career so far and is going to continue to thrive but it’s pretty cool that we’re in the same organization and we share that -ian at the end of our names.”
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