James Kaprielian‘s road to “The Show” has been one uphill battle. But the touted New York Yankees prospect has his late mother to thank for teaching him how to fight.From a young age, New York Yankees pitching prospect James Kaprielian used sports to escape the gruesome reality that his mother, Barbara Kaprielian, was battling breast cancer. When Kaprielian was in the first grade, he remembered his mother undergoing cancer treatment, which for most first graders would be difficult to comprehend.
What Kaprielian could comprehend was, for a while, his mother’s cancer treatments had worked.
Over the course of Barbara’s 14-year battle, she went into remission twice, which allowed Kaprielian to focus on his flourishing baseball career.
While Kaprielian was at UCLA, however, his mother was diagnosed with cancer for the third time.
Shortly after his mother’s diagnosis, Kaprielian received an invitation to pitch for Team USA’s Collegiate National team. Initially, Kaprielian declined the offer in order to be with his terminally-ill mother in her final days. But Kaprielian’s mother urged him to accept the invitation, which left Kaprielian in awe.
He knew his mother was strong and courageous, but even in her grave state, she was willing to put her son first. That selfless behavior stayed with Kaprielian to this very day.
“I take my dad to the side of the room when my mom was occupied or something, and I was like, ‘Hey I don’t think I’m gonna play for Team USA.’ I said, ‘I didn’t think I was gonna play for Team USA this year just because I wanted to spend time with my mom.’” Kaprielian said on the YES Network’s Yankees Access: Prospects special.
“He [James’ father] said, ‘We’ll think of something, don’t worry about it, we’ll figure it out’ And then when the room cleared out, my mom called me back over and she looked at me and she was like, ‘You’re gonna go play for Team USA, I don’t care what you say.’ Selfless. Just says so much about the person that she was and is.”
It was always Barbara Kaprielian’s dream to see her son doing what he loved, and from a young age, she knew he enjoyed baseball. That’s why it was such an easy decision to have James put himself first.
“She [Barbara] said, ‘James, you’ve worked your whole life for this, and it’s something that’s out there for you and I want you to do it. Do it for yourself. Do it for everything you’ve worked for. And remember, I’m with you and I always will be.’” Kaprielian’s aunt Claudia Falbo recalled.
Unfortunately, Barbara Kaprielian wouldn’t live to see her son pitch for Team USA. Shortly after encouraging her son to play baseball, Barbara Kaprielian passed away. Two days after his mother’s passing, Kaprielian left to pitch for Team USA, and 18 days later, he started against Chinese Taipei.
Kaprielian honored his mother by pitching six shutout innings for Team USA.
“My mom had just passed. It was hard for me to be there, at all,” Kaprielian said. “Talking to people there was tough. I was fortunate enough to get the ball against Chinese Taipei on the Fourth of July. We got to wear the camo (camouflage) uniforms, USA across our chest. My mom was on my mind every single pitch and she was out there with me. I wanted to make her proud and we ended up having a good game, to say the least.”
Since his mother’s death, Kaprielian’s baseball career has seen it’s ups and downs. He was drafted in the first round — 16th pick overall — by the New York Yankees in 2015, but suffered a season-ending elbow injury in 2016.
While Kaprielian’s elbow injury was difficult to overcome, he used the strength his mother taught him during her cancer battle to get back to playing the game he loved.
His first test since healing from the elbow injury was the Arizona Fall League, a test he passed with flying colors. While he went 2-3 with a 4.33 ERA in 27 innings, he notched 26 strikeouts while reaching 97 mph with his fastball.
Now, Kaprielian enters Spring Training with the Bombers, hoping to eventually make it to the Majors. There’s no doubt he will because, like his mother, Kaprielian has proven he’s a fighter. And no matter where Kaprielian goes, his mother will be right there with him.
“Yankees Access: Prospects” will air on the YES Network Sunday, February 26th at 4 p.m. ET, immediately following the YES’ Blue Jays vs. Yankees Spring Training game telecast.