By DOUG SMITH email@example.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — There were days in Lewiston when Kevin Siegrist couldn’t find anyone to stand in against him so he pitched to trees in Kiwanis Park.
“I’d go over to catch for him and I’d tell him, ‘Don’t hit the tree,’” recalled his Dad, also Kevin Siegrist, from his home in Wellington, near Palm Beach on Florida’s East Coast.
Recalled Andy Heuer, a coach with the Anderson Electric team which charged to the Hyde Park Major League title, “he had the fire in his gut and he was well-coached. Not by me, though. Nothing was broken and we didn’t want to do anything to mess him up.”
Rick Lancellotti, Buffalo’s premiere baseball instructor, recalls “A good-natured kid having fun” at his Buffalo School of Baseball. “And when we saw him on the screen the other night it was like, ‘You gotta’ be kiddin’ me!’ Six-foot-five, throwin’ 96? We hardly recognized him.”
But the world has recognized the St. Louis Cardinals’ Kevin Siegrist, 24, the first local product to pitch in a World Series since Cardinal O’Hara’s Billy Scherrer (Detroit, Oct. 14, 1984). After a long countdown on the Cards’ launch pad, he rocketed through the system this summer – Class AA (Springfield, MO), then Triple-A (Memphis) and, finally, St. Louis, where he etched a miniscule 0.45 ERA through 45 games.
His World Series debut Wednesday was differently memorable. With the Cards already down 5-0, he came on to face David Ortiz, whose physique may have reminded him of those Lewiston trees. “Big Papi” spanked a two-run homer. “That’s OK,” Siegrist Senior would later text him. “That’s not the last home run you’ll ever throw.”
Born in Buffalo, raised in Lewiston, he hit more homers than he threw around here, and at 11 was intimidating Hyde Park Leaguers a year older. “We’d figured ‘rec ball’ just wasn’t for him,” says the elder Siegrist, who’s in St. Louis this weekend for games 3-5.
“He was a little bit advanced,” deadpans former coach Heuer, who worked alongside the elder Siegrist, Al Fiacco and Steve Panepinto. “We were lucky to draft him first.”
Teacher Lancellotti concedes that usually “you never see coming” the success that Siegrist would achieve. He recalls him as an eager learner. “You know, you don’t just pop out (into the world) at 6-5, 220 pounds,” he said. “You try to get the mechanics down early and let your body grow into it.”
Soon, though, the elder Siegrist got to thinking that Kevin might benefit from a 12-month baseball climate. He left his job with Ironworkers Local 9 to work near Palm Beach as a hotel engineer. Kevin did well in high school and small college baseball but unlike Anderson Electric, the Cardinals did not draft him first. Three years into his career, in 2009, he was still at short-season level, pitching for former Bison catcher Dann Billardello as a Batavia Muckdog.
“It’s bizarre the way he moved up,” says Lancellotti, a baseball lifer. “But you’ve got to have that passion, particularly playing that far from home.”
But when assigned to the Class A Palm Beach Cardinals, he was actually able to live at home. Promotions followed in dizzying succession and in June the Cardinals beckoned him to the big nest. On June 14, he pitched a shutout inning at Miami. Friends and relatives ruled among the 14,000 announced attendees at Marlins Park.
“It’s hard to describe how you feel when that’s your son out there,” he says.
“We couldn’t be happier,” says Lancellotti.
“The thing is, that’s a top-notch family,” adds Heuer. “And the parents didn’t push him. He was just having fun.”
Heuer fondly recalled Siegrist’s attitude toward less-gifted team mates. “He was a true team player,” he said. “Just one of the guys.”
And now he’s just one of the guys in the World Series. The last time that happened to someone around here, he hadn’t even been born.
Doug Smith writes about the stories and personalities from the local diamonds in Base Paths, which is published Mondays in the Niagara Gazette when local baseball is in season. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.