KC native Rosenthal ‘living the dream’ with first-place Cards

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Before his boy became an air rifle with legs, he was a skinny college kid with skinny college kid dreams. The last time Trevor Rosenthal spent this much time rolling around the outfield grass at Kauffman Stadium, it was during a private, pre-draft workout some four years earlier.

“He spent a day out there, hoping he’d get drafted by the Royals,” father Russ Rosenthal says. Then he laughs. “Things turned out OK, though.”

Today, Trevor Rosenthal, a child of Lee’s Summit, Mo., ranks second in the National League in holds (14). Today, Trevor Rosenthal is a habanero haymaker. Today, Trevor Rosenthal is eighth inning hell. Today, Trevor Rosenthal throws a fastball that will melt your face off.

“The kids that I played with, growing up, I always used to have better arms than the rest of them, noticeably,” the St. Louis Cardinals’ setup man, who grew up less than 17 miles from The K, tells FOX Sports Midwest. “I think it’s just mechanics. And stuff started to come together as I got into the Cardinals organization.”

With that, he shrugs. Griffeys hit. Barrymores act. Rosenthals throw heat. You don’t try to explain away gifts of God or genetics. You accept them. Accept them and try to use them as best you can. 

Memorial Day was family day along Royal Way, and Rosenthals, justifiably, came off a bit prouder than most. Papa Rosenthal, in his pre-lawyering days, was a mid-80-miles-per-hour range kind of chucker as a tot back in rural Nebraska. Trevor’s younger brother, Tanner, reportedly hits the 90ish range as a 19-year-old.

“Everybody that I ever played catch with, like I did with Trevor and Tanner, the ball always sounds different the way we throw it,” offers Russ, one of 30 relatives and close friends in attendance to catch up with Trevor as his Cards topped Kansas City, 6-3. “People always say (that) we throw a ‘heavy’ ball.”

The stories run fast and furious Monday at the park. Russ is not a big man, barely taller than 5-foot-7; Trevor is a lithe 6-2. The family secret is in the forearms and wrists, the pitcher’s father explains, and seeing if nature decides to take its course. He recalls with a laugh the time he tried to teach a pre-teen Trevor how to throw a curve — at least, until a local coach stepped in to try to untangle the knots, strand by strand.

“He said, ‘(Trevor is) one of the most talented kids I’ve ever seen at age 10,'” Russ recalls. “‘But if he keeps throwing the ball like he does, he’s not going to have an elbow by age 12.'”

Fortunately, the elbow made it through. The curve — now a 12-6 overhand model with a cougar’s bite — did, too.

Trevor also throws a changeup with confidence, a slider and a cutter, just for kicks. But the money pitch is the express, the fastball with the comet trail.

“It’s pretty surreal, man,” Russ says.

“He’s living the dream,” former coach Shon Plack says.

And killing bats. The Cards’ reliever has been clocked as high as 101 in The Show; his heater averages 97.2 miles per hour this season, according to FanGraphs.com — second-highest in the majors among pitchers who’ve worked at least 10 innings and slightly ahead of Cincinnati cannon Aroldis Chapman (97.0).

Trevor Rosenthal became one of the breakout stars of last October, stringing together a postseason in which he allowed no runs and just two hits over 8 2/3 postseason innings while fanning 15. This past winter, he went across the state to work out with Cards ace Chris Carpenter in St. Louis, and came into spring training with the same zip on the arm and a new spring in his step.

“Last year, in the playoffs, it was really cool seeing him,” says Plack, who used to tutor the 22-year-old at the Building Champions Baseball Academy in Overland Park, Kan. “It just kind of hits home a little bit.”

Plack and Building Champions founder Jeremy Jones recall sanding away some of the rougher edges of teenage Trevor, shepherding him through his prep salad days — the pup was a Lee’s Summit West High student by day, and a Building Champions project at night.

The family attended Royals home games when they could, given Trevor’s travel schedule, but the older he got, the harder it became to find those free summer nights.

“It doesn’t seem like that long ago,” Trevor says of his days in the stands. “I mean, John Buck was here (at catcher). Billy Butler, you know, he was here.”

Rosenthal remembers watching right-hander Zach Greinke suddenly putting it all together. He remembers watching Carlos Beltran — now a 36-year-old Cards teammate — as a five-tool 20-something, patrolling center field at The K, gliding from gap to gap.

“We talked about it,” the pitcher says. “I was like, ‘Hey, I grew up in Kansas City and watched you play all the time.’ So he’s kind of (like), ‘Oh, man, I feel old now.'”

After high school, the Rosenthal train landed at Cowley County (Kan.) Community College, an hour south of Wichita, because they told him he could play third base as well. But that all changed following an emergency relief appearance one day, in which Trevor entered a 1-out, bases-loaded jam and whiffed the next two men he faced to end the threat.

“Once they got the gun on him,” Russ recalls, “he was throwing 95-95.”

Suddenly, the scouts on hand leaned in closer, salivating with each explosive crack of the catcher’s mitt. It got to the point where Trevor’s coach at Cowley, Dave Burroughs, recommended he stick with pitching exclusively, that the mound was going to provide the surest ticket to the gravy train.

“(Trevor) said, basically, ‘I’d like to earn my spot back at third and at shortstop,'” Russ says, chuckling again. “(Burroughs) said, ‘That’s fine, but you might want to think about (that) … you’ve got a bigger shot at being a pitcher.'”

Good advice. The best, actually.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com