Wright fueled by close-knit family

Right-hander's mother battling rare form of dementia

Wright fueled by close-knit family

BALTIMORE -- When Orioles right-hander Mike Wright got his first Major League paycheck last year, his first call was home to his sister, Tiffany, in North Carolina, to transfer a lump sum. Wright, who is on his first Opening Day roster this year, appeared in 12 games as a rookie for Baltimore in 2015. His family felt the effects of every one.

It was February 2014 when Wright's mother, Sherry, then just 50, started to show some troubling symptoms. It took multiple doctors, specialists and tests seven months to diagnose her with dementia. It wasn't until March 2015 that Sherry -- who had to stop driving and working and requires around-the-clock care -- was diagnosed specifically with Frontotemporal dementia (FTD), a rare condition that affects roughly 10-15 percent of dementia patients.

"When I got the first paycheck, it was huge. It's not the Minor League paycheck anymore. I did everything I could to help out and try to take care of those bills," Wright said. "That was awesome. That was probably the best part about getting that paycheck and coming up here, that I could help my family that much."

Wright's parents are divorced, though dad Dennis does help out quite a bit, and Tiffany moved back home last fall to take care of their mother. Despite a 45-minute commute each way to work, Tiffany is able to make it work -- in part due to Mike's money helping offset the cost of weekday help.

"I didn't make it to the big leagues, my whole family made it to the big leagues," Wright said of his close-knit clan, who re-arranged their schedules to make the drive up to Baltimore when his first start this season got pushed back a day. "I've got plenty of best friends in pro ball and their families come once, maybe twice a year. My family is mad if they miss one start.

"Like this Opening Day, it didn't matter what day of the week I was going to pitch, they were going to take off work and come."

Wright's family was on hand last year for his Major League debut May 17, watching from the Camden Yards stands as the righty pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings against the Angels to pick up the win. Even more impressive was Sherry, who used to run down the first-base line with her son whenever he hit the ball, was able to understand the magnitude of the moment.

"His dream was really happening right before our eyes and my mom could really be there. She just looked at me and said, 'This is it, this is really it.' And I said, 'Yes, Mom, this is it,'" said Tiffany, who still tears up at the recollection. "We have good days and bad days, days where she is really confused. One thing [FTD] affects is your speech and in-depth conversation, and for her to acknowledge that she knew what was going on and she was really excited, I was so happy she could understand how significant the day was."

After all, it was Sherry, followed by Tiffany, who went hunting in a woods filled with briars and poison oak barefoot to retrieve Wright's first home run ball when he was 11. The pair searched for an hour before they came up with it, a date chronicled -- along with every other major milestone -- in a note Dennis sent his son as part of a family care package earlier this week.

"Last year was a little more stressful. My whole life I dreamed of making it to the big leagues. I dreamed of getting here and playing in front of a bunch of people. And that's where my dream ended," said Wright, the Orioles' 10th-ranked prospect, who went 2-1 with a 2.96 ERA in his first five starts before finishing 5-8 with a 6.04 ERA in 12 games. "As soon as I made it, I kind of had nothing after that. I didn't really know what to do. So, this offseason was huge, talking to my family, my mom. My mom has always believed in me. She thinks I'm going to be the best player that ever was and ever will be.

Top Prospects: Wright, BAL

"They sent me a care package. I'm a grown man playing a professional game and yet my dad, mom, sister and my grandma sent me a care package and ridiculous support for making the 25-man [roster] to open the season. When you think about it like that, my family made it, it's not just me. So why be stressed out? It's such a blessing to be here. So, I'm just going to go out there and have fun."

Wright will have Tiffany, Dennis and Sherry in the stands again tonight against the Rays. So far, Sherry has been able to handle the travel pretty well and the family made a game-time decision Friday morning that she'd be OK to brave the projected cold temperatures and wind at Camden Yards.

"We both are aware that one day she's not going to be able to do that," said Tiffany, who works as an occupational therapist and has become immersed in all of the information possible on FTD. "It's harder when she's out of her home environment."

Sherry's disease is also very variable. Unlike the more common Alzheimer's, there's a lot of unknown regarding a prognosis, a progression of FTD and even medication. There are stretches during the day where she's OK alone and times when Tiffany has had to call a neighbor panicked because Sherry is on the front porch with no idea where she is or how to get inside.

Wright is hoping to use his platform in baseball, with his sister's help, to raise awareness and research funds down the line. The two have talked about starting their own charity or foundation or finding an existing one, a conversation Wright hopes can get going as he gets more established.

"Even before I did make it to the big leagues [I thought about that]. I don't have a very big hometown, but my sister was like, 'Hey, a lot of people care about and support you, you can reach out to a lot of people, you can make a difference,'" Wright said.

It's a line of thinking the 25-year-old has grown into.

"Especially the last year, he has grown tremendously," Tiffany said of her younger brother, who took on several home projects this offseason. "At times, he has a hard time knowing he can't be here, but I keep telling him that we were born with different gifts and talents for a reason. I think he's really found how to take that stress and find the positive outlook in it.

"He knows he's where he dreamed to be, it's where I want him to be, it's where his mom wants him to be."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli, and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.