There were two men on the field for the St. Louis Cardinals during Friday’s frigid warmups for the first game of the National League Championship Series that weren’t wearing some form of long sleeves.
One, Kolten Wong from Hilo, Hawaii, was taking cuts and running sprints as he prepared to play second base. The other is plenty familiar with St. Louis’s fickle fall weather.
Bullpen coach Bryan Eversgerd knows how to handle the changing of the seasons. He grew up here.
To be specific, Eversgerd was born and raised in Carlyle, Illinois, where he graduated from Carlyle High School before going on to pitch at Kaskaskia College.
Dennis “Shooter” Schutzenhofer, who taught chemistry and coached baseball at Belleville East and West, now serves as one of the team’s batting practice pitchers, and he’s known the guy who answers to “Gerdy” perhaps longer than anyone in the organization.
“The metro-east has its own fraternity,” Schutzenhofer said. “Guys from St. Louis are foreign to us. But if you’re from St. Clair County, Madison County, Clinton County, Washington County, you’re in a special fraternity together. A special bond.”
Eversgerd is also part of the batting practice routine, which explains why he had perhaps broken the hardest sweat on the field even without the additional layers. He appeared in 76 games as a player for the Cardinals, Montreal Expos, and Texas Rangers, then he returned to the Cardinals organization as a coach in 2001.
“It’s very gratifying knowing how many years it took and the kind of work that went into it,” Eversgerd said. “It’s really gratifying to be at this point right now.
“It’s obviously like a dream come true for a country boy from out in the middle of nowhere.”
Gerdy’s country boy persona and the soft twang in his voice don’t quite hide the sophistication that’s inherent to his job, even as he and Schutzenhofer continue to converse about the ins and outs of farming. As a key part of the advance scouting and planning staff for the Cardinals’ pitchers, he’s heavily involved in integrating data from the analytics department into game plans and making that information easier for players to handle.
“He’s been able to really elevate what all of the other information is out there that’s come in the last five to eight years as far as the analytics and the TrackMan and all the different things that come with that,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “(He can) study that and then put it into the more traditional baseball, so he understands what that blend looks like.”
Translated for the postseason, Eversgerd said that things continue to be business as usual.
“The biggest part of it is the advance work that goes into it from all angles, from the analytics side and from Mad Dog (pitching coach Mike Maddux) and I sitting down and looking at the opposing team,” Eversgerd explained. “It doesn’t change a whole lot. It’s part of our daily business, and we just go about it like we do all year.”
Shildt says the data Eversgerd compiles helps him look forward to likely game scenarios and match the relief pitcher to the moment.
“He does just a really nice job of understanding where guys are going to be potentially used,” Shildt said. “... He has an idea of the different scenarios and has an understanding of how to get guys up and get them going and give them the appropriate information to come in and compete.”
Three of the five games of the Division Series against Atlanta saw the Cardinals get at least six innings of work out of their starting staff, but the best-of-seven NLCS invites more strategy and could hand the Cardinals an advantage.
The Washington Nationals, with few relief arms they can trust, turned to starters Patrick Corbin, Max Scherzer, and Steven Strasburg to bail them out of sticky spots in a short series. As Washington’s bullpen wears down, Eversgerd’s relievers will increase in prominence.
“I think that’s really super cool for him and his family,” Shildt said. “He’s a local guy, played in the organization, played in the big leagues, so I think it’s definitely special for him. Special for all of us, but probably more special for him.”
Eversgerd himself has been a constant presence in media sessions all year long. He might be the coach who Shildt has quoted most frequently, repeating a mantra that anybody who spends time around the Cardinals can recite verbatim: “You are who you are when you’re at your most uncomfortable.”
“I think that’s when you find out who you really are is when you’re not comfortable,” Eversgerd said. “That’s what helps you to expand your horizons and perform at your best.”
That, more than anything else, may be the best explanation for his determination to sweat through the shivers as he went about his daily routine.