BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - For Josh Fellhauer, family has been the foundation for a successful baseball career.
His grandfather, Richard, pitched for the St. Louis Browns. His father, Bob, was drafted by Oakland as a shortstop. His brother, Justin, and uncle, Rick, also played baseball.
An all-types music lover, Josh never had the opportunity to have a walk-up song during his baseball games when attended Rancho Cucamonga High School in California. He was a pitcher and position player for the Cougars baseball team and also played three years of varsity football.
He chose to attend Cal State Fullerton on a baseball scholarship from 2007-09, going to the College World Series twice in three years with the Titans.
While being drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 2009 was a major accomplishment, Fellhauer says his most memorable moment was when he threw out the potential game-winning run against UC-Irvine in the bottom of the 13th inning of a game that turned out to be the longest in College World Series history.
Since joining the Reds organization in 2009, Fellhauer's only season with a batting average above .300 was in 2012 when he played for Double-A Pensacola and hit .314 in 117 games.
He started the 2013 season at Triple-A Louisville and was one step away from the majors. But because the Reds activated one of their MLB players from the disabled list later that year, it caused a ripple effect that resulted in Fellhauer being demoted back to Double-A.
"It definitely upset me, but I knew it had to happen," Fellhauer said. "I just tried to rub it off the best I could and continue to play baseball."
He started the 2014 campaign at Louisville as well, but was sent down after just nine games. Following a 34-game stint with Pensacola, the Reds traded him to the Brewers for cash considerations and hit .289 in 39 games with Double-A Huntsville.
Fellhauer admitted it had been tough mentally to get over the minor league roller coaster, but that stress in previous years was nothing compared to what Josh had to worry about when his mother, Julie, became ill prior to his first full season in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
Julie exercised frequently and was in great shape, but began feeling a loss of energy in February 2015. That began to worry her family when she spent most nights laying down on a couch trying to regain her strength instead of being active.
She was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on March 1st and admitted into a local hospital the next day.
"All she kept saying was, 'Don't worry about me. I'm going to be okay," Josh Fellhauer said. "You've got things to do. You've got a season to be had. Just go do your thing and I'll be here when you get back."
Josh reported for spring training later than usual, but played just six games in the regular season for the Shuckers before flying back to California after finding out his mother went into a medically induced coma.
"From the doctor's standpoint, she was getting better," Fellhauer said. "We just thought that every day, no matter how small the step, she was taking a step towards waking up out of a coma and getting better. We always thought that things were moving in the right direction."
On May 11th, with her sons Josh and Justin, husband Bob and the rest of the family by her side, Julie passed away unexpectedly at the age of 52. Even though there was no evidence of cancer, Julie's death was caused by a post-chemotherapy treatment infection.
Depending on a professional baseball player's contract situation, some athletes might be receiving lesser compensation despite the exhausting work schedule. A now inactive GoFundMe.com page was set up to help the Fellhauer family following Julie's abrupt passing. While it raised more than $10,000, it was still shy of its original goal of $15,000.
"Me and my dad didn't really want to put it up because we didn't want to seem like we were asking for charity," Fellhauer said. "But people said this is a way to help without being there every day."
Fellhauer eventually returned to the Shuckers lineup on June 1, finishing the emotional contest hitless with a couple of strikeouts.
"I almost lost it during the national anthem," Fellhauer said. "It was a feeling I'd never had before a game. Obviously you'd be nervous or excited before a game, but that day I knew that my mom wasn't going to be watching the game from the couch with my dad. Instead, she was looking down on me."
Josh's girlfriend, Jessica, was his biggest supporter during the difficult time. He credited her Italian background as a source for the tremendous help that occurred daily after Julie's death.
"The day that I flew home, she flew in to meet me and we landed an hour apart from each other," Fellhauer said. "She was with me every step of the way. Every day, every long night, at the hospital sitting with me, whatever we had to do at the hospital she was there by my side."
Josh's teammates hung a jersey in the dugout during his time away to let him know that his other brothers were there for him in spirit.
"It really kind of magnifies how baseball is just a game," said Adam Weisenburger, who is Josh's teammate. "There's a lot more to life than baseball. We're as supportive as we can but this is also kind of a getaway for him."
Once the 27-year-old Fellhauer returned to the Shuckers lineup, he played some of his best baseball, raising his batting average from .154 to nearly .300 over a span of 17 games and helped Biloxi to a first-half division title during the team's first year on the Mississippi gulf coast.
"I remember one of my first games back, I swung at a bad pitch, and I know she would text me and say, 'What were you thinking, knucklehead? You can't swing at that,'"Fellhauer said. "That's just the kind of person that she was. She would've made me feel better but also told me that I did something wrong."
Even with a playoff spot wrapped up, the Shuckers will surely be "#MamaFellyStrong" for the rest of the season.
"I just want to come out [to the field] and enjoy it," Fellhauer said. "There's nothing I can do to bring my mom back, but I can play hard every chance that I get and make her happy that way."