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Once unheralded, Siegrist thriving with Cards

Lefty reliever no longer under the radar with strong work in the big leagues

No one flocks to South Florida to see the lanky kid with the flamingo legs.

People come to visit Lion Country Safari, the drive-thru zoo in nearby Loxahatchee. There, they honk at rhinos blocking the road and they crane their necks to watch giraffes pluck some nourishment from a tree.

They venture to the National Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame, an innocent little building full of exhibits that chronicle the 2,600-year history of the sport.

They travel to the area to take advantage of the pools and the golf courses, to see a palm tree or two, to escape their habitat for the heavy heat and frequent sunshine.

They do not come to Lake Worth, Fla., to watch Palm Beach State College's soft-tossing southpaw. After all, the kid was cut from his high school team as a freshman, received interest from only the community college he eventually attended, and if he really reared back and fired the ball to home plate, he might flirt with 88 mph on the radar gun.

That is what makes Kevin Siegrist's journey to the big leagues -- where he has fashioned a 0.84 ERA over his first 23 appearances for the Cardinals -- so extraordinary.

"He was not a heralded kid," said Charlie Gonzalez, who scouted Siegrist for St. Louis. "Without question."

When he roams the outfield and shags fly balls with his fellow Cards relievers during batting practice, Siegrist permits himself some time for reflection. He thinks about the trek that has guided him to the Majors and he pinches himself to prove that he is, in fact, here.

As an upperclassman at Wellington (Fla.) High School, Siegrist was a middle-of-the-rotation hurler. Palm Beach was the only school to show him any interest, so he advanced his educational career to the university, which sits about 10 miles east of his high school.

When Gonzalez first saw Siegrist the fall of his freshman year, the pitcher had sprouted up to 6-foot-5, but he didn't throw hard and he demonstrated "funky" mechanics. Siegrist tended to throw the ball across his entire body, a gangly frame that was not built for endurance on the mound.

"He was a late bloomer," Gonzalez said. "He was high-waisted. He had legs like a flamingo. He was just barely shaving."

Gonzalez had interest in Palm Beach's Mike Rayl, who carried a bit more hype and became a 15th-round selection by the Indians in the 2009 Draft. The longtime scout also grew fond of Siegrist.

Siegrist didn't understand why.

"When I would talk with him, he would always give me a look like, 'What are you doing talking to me?'" Gonzalez said. "It was that type of thing, but I always believed in him."

Siegrist had yet to sketch out his life's blueprint. He was pursuing a general associate's degree at Palm Beach and had no clue what career path he wanted to take. In the end, it didn't matter.

"I guess maybe I got a little lucky," Siegrist said.

The Cardinals chose Siegrist in the 41st round in the 2008 Draft. He was the 1,235th player selected, though Gonzalez wanted the organization to secure him in the ninth or 10th round.

Siegrist battled a few minor nagging injuries during his ascension through the Cards' farm system, but he hit his stride once he reached Class A Quad Cities in 2011. In nine outings (eight starts), he posted a 1.15 ERA. That, Siegrist said, is when it dawned on him that he could reach the Majors.

Siegrist began the 2013 campaign at Double-A Springfield, logging a 2.25 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 20 innings. He made five stellar appearances at Triple-A Memphis, and the Cardinals needed a fresh reliever.

At 2 a.m., a few hours after the Cards dropped a 10-3 decision to Arizona on June 5, Redbirds manager Ron "Pop" Warner called Siegrist.

"There's only one reason why he's calling me then," Siegrist said. "It's either really good news or really bad news."

It was good news, even though Siegrist had to forgo a normal night's sleep so he could catch an 8 a.m. flight to St. Louis.

Siegrist made his big league debut the next evening, as his nerve-fueled adrenaline compensated for his exhaustion. The occasion fell on the night of the 2013 Draft. Gonzalez sat in a room full of scouts and other front office talent evaluators at Busch Stadium. When Siegrist exited the bullpen and jogged in toward the mound, Gonzalez walked out of the war room and watched it live.

There stood Siegrist, a once-uncelebrated kid who had no suitors, pitching to catcher Tony Cruz, another gem unearthed by Gonzalez. Cruz also attended Palm Beach and was the Cardinals' 26th-round selection in 2007.

"It was one of the best scouting moments of my life," Gonzalez said.

In his debut, Siegrist fanned four of the six batters he faced. Two days later, he punched out both Joey Votto and Jay Bruce in a scoreless appearance. That's when Siegrist's feats started to sink in.

"It's kind of like, 'All right, this is what you dream about when you're playing,'" Siegrist said. "It was cool."

Siegrist has yielded only two runs on six hits in his first 21 1/3 innings. He has quickly earned more responsibility and trust from his manager, Mike Matheny.

"He's done a nice job," Matheny said. "He's been in a lot of different situations and has been effective against righties and lefties. He's getting better all the time."

For Siegrist, it's still all a bit mystifying and surreal. For Gonzalez, it's undoubtedly gratifying.

The flamingo-legged kid has exceeded expectations. He has people watching now.

"You can dream on a kid like him," Gonzalez said. "Do they always come to fruition? [Heck] no. Not every tall, skinny kid turns out to do what he does. But he's a good start."

Zack Meisel is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @zackmeisel.
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