This one came out of left field.
Prior to their game Wednesday night, the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks gathered in left field. One of the players, Kevin McGovern, thought it was a quick meeting for their game.
It turned out, their ace pitcher was the only one who didn’t know the reason for the impromptu get together.
McGovern is moving on up.
“My manager told everyone but he didn’t tell me,” said McGovern, a 2007 graduate of Archbishop Ryan High School. “I thought we were meeting to lock in for the game, for a pep talk. He said, ‘I don’t get to do this too often.’ Then he had a really emotional look on his face, and told me that it was the St. Louis Cardinals and he gave me a hug. Everyone on the team was in on it but me. It was so emotional.”
After spending years playing independent baseball, McGovern was acquired by the St. Louis Cardinals. He now heads to Springfield, Missouri, to play for the club’s AA affiliate.
“I was blown away, I was speechless,” said McGovern, who was the Catholic League MVP during his senior year and also pitched for La Salle and Jefferson in college. “I was hopeful this year because a lot of guys were getting signed, a lot of pitchers needed more work after COVID. I always had this in the back of my mind, it was always a goal and aspiration.”
The Cardinals liked what they saw from the lefty, and this year, there’s been plenty to like.
In three weeks this year, McGovern has been named PURE Performance Pitcher of the Week.
On the season, he’s 4-0, which is tops in the American Association. He’s also first in strikeouts with 37, has two compete games and has thrown a shutout.
For his career, he has struck out 704 batters in his American Association career, the most by any pitcher in league history.
And he’ll shortly be able to show the St. Louis organization what he can do up close.
Instead of preparing for his next start, McGovern is bound for Springfield, where he’ll take a coronavirus test. After that comes back, he’ll be able to join the team.
“I’m looking forward to being given a new opportunity to prove myself,” said McGovern, who has spent his entire professional career playing independent baseball. “My entire career, I always said I just wanted a shot and chance to prove myself. Now I have a shot with an organization that believes in me. They gave me a shot. I’m excited. It’s everything I wanted.”
It’s a huge step for McGovern and one heck of a promotion.
Independent ball is tough. It’s a lot of buses, very little fanfare, but it’s a great brand of baseball, though tough to stand out.
McGovern has stood out for many years, including six years while pitching for the Winnipeg Goldeyes, and since last year, with the Redhawks.
“Winnipeg was an amazing experience to grow up and mature in a big-league mindset,” McGovern said. “I was just a young kid out of Philly. I had a lot of ups and downs. I learned to win, to win with humility. It taught me to be a professional and carry myself the right way.
“(The Redhawks) have been incredible. The organization. They were very happy for me tonight. Tonight, when I was told, they were happier than I am. And that’s not easy to do. They were so great about it.”
McGovern not only has great support from his team, but he has it from his family.
He met his wife, Danielle, when he was in Winnipeg. He also credits his family, including his parents, sister Colleen and brother Sean. He credits all of them for allowing him to live this dream.
“I have the best support system, an unbelievable one,” he said. “I played independent baseball for 10 years. It’s grueling. You have to take failures and disappointments and it feels so good to have people around you who give positive reinforcement. They were always there for you, no matter what. They told me to keep trying and they made it possible. They always allowed me to play another year. To keep going. They never blinked and they were so proud of me to come where I came from.”
McGovern certainly put in his share of blood, sweat and tears.
He earned a living during the offseason by giving pitching lessons, which he did in the Northeast and in Newtown.
“That was a perfect thing for me because I’ve always wanted to be a coach,” said McGovern, who has worked with about 250 clients over the years. “I couldn’t coach because I would never want to leave a team and I always knew I was going to go back (to play ball). Lessons were great because I could help them achieve their goals.”
Now he’s in the on-deck circle of achieving his. And if he pitches like he has all year, he’ll do that.
“This year I had the start I wanted every year,” McGovern said. “I worked on my pitches, I worked on location and I got my body in condition to pitch nine innings.”
The work just gets harder from here.
But anyone who played independent baseball for 10 years is never afraid of putting in that work.
“I know this is a great story, but I can’t get swept up in that because I have so much work to do,” McGovern said. “I have to keep my head down and stay focused.
“I don’t want this to be the end of the story. This is great and I’m happy it’s happening, but I have work to do. I want to move up. Twenty-five years ago, I had a goal of playing Major League Baseball. This really hasn’t hit me yet, but I want to keep moving forward. This is a huge opportunity and I really want to make the most of it.”