Warm ups are over, and the catcher throws down to second. In steps the opposition. Kevin Herget, 27, has done this over and over again. He lifts his front leg just slightly, keeping his hands low. After a stride, he delivers the ball, polished off by a high kick from his drive leg. This is a motion that he has continually worked on refining since joining the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
Players in Memphis need to climb one more rung up the ladder to fulfill their dream. One more promotion puts them on the St. Louis Cardinals. For Kevin Herget, that was a long shot dream, six years in the making.
The Cardinals drafted Herget in the second to last round of the 2013 MLB Draft. He was the 1,175th overall selection that year, which is higher than even he believed he would go.
“I had only heard from two teams before the draft, so I actually went out and got a coaching job that day,” Herget said. “When I got home, it was the 36th round. I was convinced it wasn’t in the cards for me.”
The rounds kept going, and Coach Herget became the reality. Coming from Kean State, a small Division III school, it would not be all that surprising. Then, Herget’s phone buzzed. An area scout told him to tune in, just in time to hear his name called.
From then on, it was just an adjustment to succeed at the higher levels. If his 2.89 ERA in his debut year was any indication, he figured things out rather quickly. For Herget, the biggest change was not in his delivery, it was in his mind.
“The adjustment wasn’t physical tools, just mentally understanding that I was good enough to pitch in professional baseball,” Herget said. “As I pitched more and more, my confidence grew. I started to believe that I could get anyone out, and my stuff was as good as the next guy.”
For years, Herget was a reliable arm out of the bullpen for any team he was pitching for. However, in recent years, he has seen his role start to change to starter. Prior to 2017, the righty had made nine starts. In just the last two years, he’s started over 50 games.
Starting and relieving are completely different animals. One thing that Herget has focused on since taking on a new role is refining how he approaches hitters. Getting through the lineup multiple times requires a little more strategy.
With one more step to go, it is not bad to have success with both roles on the resume. Herget has saved 32 games and won 38. He has experience in a lot of different pitching situations, which opens up 13 spots to fight for on any team he is placed on, rather than just bullpen or rotation.Each time he went out, he was able to learn something new.
“The bullpen has taught me a lot about myself and what my best pitches are in certain situations,” Herget said, “When I get in the same situation as a starter I know how to handle it.”
The documented struggles of minor league life do not elude Herget, but there is so much about life as a ballplayer that outweighs any of the negativity.
It has been six years now. Six years of games Herget was convinced he wouldn’t play. Six years that were two rounds away from being spent coaching. He is just a single step away from realizing what so many can only dream about.
“The experiences, places I’ve been, and the people I have met along the way is far better than I could have expected,” Herget said. “That itself makes it all worthwhile, regardless of where this career takes me.”
For Kevin Herget, making a career out of playing baseball seemed like a long shot. But fortunately, his dream come true.