St. Louis Cardinals

Eversgerd lived his big-league dream. Now he’s helping Cardinals prospects live theirs.

Bryan Eversgerd’s path to becoming a baseball lifer had a humble beginning.

The Carlyle High School graduate was chasing a dream when he hopped into his car and drove to old Busch Stadium for an open tryout for the St. Louis Cardinals on June 14, 1989.

Eversgerd was a 20-year-old left-handed pitcher coming off two strong seasons at Kaskaskia College, a two-year school in Centralia. But Division I offers weren’t being stuffed into his mailbox and he hadn’t been selected in the amateur draft a few days earlier.

Eversgerd’s life changed that day.

“There were hundreds of kids there. Who knows how many?” Eversgerd, 48, said Saturday from the Cardinals’ spring-training camp in Jupiter, Fla. “One other kid and myself were the only kids that got signed to a contract that day.

“The next time I was able to go to Busch Stadium was the night I got called up (to the Cardinals). It was the most incredible feeling to walk on that field as a player.”

Not even Eversgerd could have imagined it.

“Big-time long odds, and that’s OK. It’s all right,” Eversgerd said. “I was raised, ‘Hey, if you want something, you’ve got to work for it and it can happen.’ It was a dream come true for me.”

The farmboy from Clinton County turned the tryout camp into a four-year major-league career with the Cardinals, Montreal Expos and Texas Rangers. He pitched in 76 games, including one start, in 1994-95 and 1997-98. He finished 2-5 with a 5.16 ERA in 96 innings, calling it quits in 2000 after two seasons with Class AAA Memphis in the Cardinals’ system.

“I didn’t have enough stuff to stay in the big leagues. I ran out of stuff,” said Eversgerd, who also pitched in the Boston and San Diego organizations. “I could do all the little things. I fielded my position and things like that. But I just didn’t have enough stuff at the end of the day.”

Eversgerd began coaching in the Cardinals system in 2001. He left the organization in 2002 and 2003, but returned in 2004 and has since coached at every minor-league level. He currently is the pitching coach in Memphis and has been giving instruction at the Cardinals’ major-league camp in Jupiter.

His message follows his own philosophy as a struggling young player: Vision and hard work can create an opportunity.

“That’s kind of the message I try to portray to the kids here: It can happen for you,” said Eversgerd, in his 15th season as a coach in the Cardinals system. “It can happen for a first-round draft pick. It can happen for a free-agent kid that signs at some tryout. It’s just a matter of putting your nose to the grindstone and getting after it.”

Coaching career

This summer will be Eversgerd’s fifth in Class AAA. He will be in Jupiter for the next several weeks, throwing batting practice, helping with drills and tutoring Cardinals prospects.

“It’s a lot of fun being around the guys. They keep me young,” said Eversgerd, whose self-deprecating sense of humor stands apart in a sport that has plenty of ego. “I’m a BP thrower. I’m good at that. I did it for 12 years as a player.”

Eversgerd said the long days at spring training never get old. He arrives each morning at 6 and doesn’t depart for at least 12 hours.

“Eating is a big thing,” Eversgerd said of the first thing he does each day in camp. “You don’t get as big as I am without eating, so I get my coffee and talk to the other coaches to get a plan for the day, see what all is going on so I’m at the right place at the right time.”

While the training-camp hours are long, Eversgerd said it’s “not a tough day, by any stretch.” That will come in the fall when he returns to harvest the crop in rural Carlyle. Two of Eversgerd’s three younger brothers are about ready begin the tilling and planting process.

“It’s a lot of fun being around the (players). They keep me young,” Eversgerd said. “I remember what it was like to be in their situation. Maybe there’s just a little advice I can offer them, one little thing they might get from me that helps take them to the big leagues.

“That’s what it’s all about: How many of these kids can we get to the big leagues and help the big league team? That’s our job. In Triple-A especially, we have to have these kids ready to help at the major-league level. When they get to that level, it’s less of the mechanical side and a little more of the mental side of how they set up hitters, how they use the stuff they have.”

Eversgerd said his best days are when a Memphis pitcher is summoned to the big leagues, particularly for the first time.

“I’m lucky enough to be in the room when they tell them,” Eversgerd said. “That’s the reward, when you get to tell the kids, ‘Hey, your dream is coming true. You’re going to the big leagues.’ It’s wonderful.”

Eversgerd has coached the likes of Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Marco Gonzales, Alex Reyes, Shelby Miller, Tyler Lyons, Sam Tuivailala, Seth Maness and many others.

“I feel like I’m entrusted with these kids to help the big league team,” he said. “I’ve been entrusted to be at the highest minor-league level to get these kids ready to pitch at the highest level in the game. It’s very challenging and rewarding to get to send them up there.

“For some of the guys, it’s me staying out of their way. I don’t want to kid myself and think I’m the magic part of this equation at all, because I’m not. I’m very humble about it. Some of the guys (already) are big league pitchers. You just have to stay out of their way.”

Playing with the Wizard

Eversgerd was promoted to the Cardinals in April 1994, during a homestand, but didn’t make his debut until April 30 when the Cardinals played Houston in the old Astrodome.

The Astrodome, once the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” was a cavernous ballpark that was extremely loud that particular Saturday, with 49,927 fans reveling in the Astros’ 8-1 lead when Eversgerd relieved Frank Cimorelli.

Eversgerd allowed a first-pitch single to Luis Gonzalez that put Houston runners at first and second, but he retired Scott Servais, Andujar Cedeno and Mike Felder to escape further damage. Gerald Perry batted for Eversgerd in the seventh; Houston won the game 15-5.

“The Astrodome was packed,” Eversgerd said. “It was very loud inside there. Right before I stepped up there (on the mound), Ozzie (Smith) came up to me and said, ‘Hey, kid, let’s have some fun out here.’ I’m like, ‘Easy for you to say.’

“First pitch, base hit. I remember that. I ended up getting out of the inning unscathed. But the very first pitch, I threw a slider ... kind of a slider ... my slider. It wasn’t that great. But the very first pitch, (Gonzalez) whacked it and pulled it into right field. I’m like, ‘Oh, boy. Welcome to the big leagues.’”

Eversgerd remembers most of his teammates from his rookie season in which he finished 2-3 with a 4.52 ERA in 40 games and 67  2/3  innings. Players like Smith, Todd Zeile, Bernard Gilkey, Brian Jordan, Mark Whiten, Jose Oquendo, Rick Sutcliffe and Tom Pagnozzi stand out.

“They took good care of me,” Eversgerd said. “That’s the thing with the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s about taking care of the next guy. You learn from the guys ahead of you; they take care of you. Then when you’re older, you take care of the younger guy coming again. It’s the same atmosphere now.”

Eversgerd said Smith was in a class by himself, as a teammate and a talent.

“Ozzie Smith is at the top of the list. For me, he’s the best shortstop to ever be out there,” Eversgerd said. “He’s amazing. He saved me a lot of runs. ... Thirteen Gold Gloves. Playing with that caliber of player was an incredible feeling. I was very fortunate to experience that. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Family time

Eversgerd relishes being with his family in the fall and winter because it’s quite the opposite in the spring and summer. He and his wife, Lisa, are parents of a daughter, Kristin, 20, and a son, Jake, 17.

Kristin is studying to be a veterinarian; Jake is a senior at Carlyle High. He is a pitcher and first baseman for the baseball team.

Bryan Eversgerd jokes about Jake being right-handed and his attempts to change that.

“I did everything short of tying his hand behind his back. It just didn’t quite work,” he cracked.

“My family is incredible,” Eversgerd said. “All they’ve known is me being gone. When I was still playing, we had (the kids). They’ve been around it the whole time. My wife is a saint. She’s pretty much raised them when I’m not there. A huge part of allowing me to do this is her ability to be an incredible mom and wife. She’s a huge support.”

Eversgerd said he’s fortunate that his coaching stints with the Cardinals always have been about a 4  1/2 -hour drive from Carlyle.

“They can get down (to Memphis),” Eversgerd said of his family. “On weekends, my wife comes down. The kids are at the age now where they’re doing their own thing, which is great.” 

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm