To achieve a childhood ambition is one thing, but to exist in the grail, to be an existential character in real life living out of your dream can take your breath away — even for someone as unflappable as Brandon Eisert.
As a kid growing up in Aloha, Eisert aspired to pitch for Oregon State University — a program that took the country by storm in the mid-2000's winning consecutive National Championships with primarily Oregon born-and-raised players. Last June, following graduation and the Major League baseball draft and after an impressive three-year stint as Aloha's ace, OSU extended a scholarship offer to Eisert, who jumped at the chance to join a team most expected to be loaded with pitching coming into 2017. Most expected Eisert to have to patiently wait his turn in the stocked Beaver pitching staff.
Yet, just he did after an impressive three-year stint as the Warriors' ace under Aloha head coach Tige McSwain, Eisert made a positive impression on the Beavers during their off-season intrasquad scrimmages. He secured a spot in head coach Pat Casey's bullpen to begin the season, a southpaw capable of short or long relief. Soon, Eisert was popping up on the Pac-12 Network, shoving strikes, displaying the same sort of efficient command that once mowed hitters in the Metro League. His unruffled cool — the ability to not get rattled when the waters became choppy that helped define his high school tenure — carried over to the collegiate level.
Some freshmen flounder trying to navigate the high and lows of playing college ball. But Eisert flourished in his reoccurring role. In 21 relief appearances, Eisert held opposing hitters to a .188 batting average, earned a 2.31 ERA, struck out 50 hitters, came away with a 5-0 record and four saves in 46 2/3 innings of work. Eisert was a Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American and honorable mention all-Pac 12. And when the Beavers blew through the regular season and reached the CWS semifinals against Louisiana State University, Eisert was there, pitching in the critical third game in front of a national viewing audience on ESPN.
It was only a decade ago that Eisert sat in front of his parents' television, eyes glued to the screen, envisioning himself on the bump, carefully observing his childhood heroes take OSU to national glory. Now, he was the one being summoned out of the bullpen by head coach Pat Casey and pitching coach Nate Yeskie to come in and put out the fire in front of thousands watching around the country. And while the Beavers' season came to an unfortunate end at the hands of the Tigers, Eisert etched his name in the OSU program as someone to build around in the coming seasons.
Last summer, McSwain predicted the public would see Eisert pitching the College World Series someday — just how soon nobody knew. Eisert exceeded expectations in earnest — the lithe lefty from Aloha who was a late addition to the Beaver roster but ended up being a boon of a commitment for Casey and company.
"It was an incredible experience to be one of the last eight teams in the nation to still be playing," Eisert said. "Going in it's obviously a goal, but you never know how things will go throughout the year."
After barely missing the College World Series in '16, most experts predicted OSU would be back in Omaha with a stacked roster that included multiple pro pitching prospects both in the starting rotation and in the bullpen. Where Eisert fit in initially was uncertain. Each Beaver hurler either coming into Corvallis as a freshman or returning as upperclassmen entered the year with a heralded reputation. Redshirting a season could have allowed Eisert time to get better and stronger. After all, the ex-Warrior already reached his desired destination. An extra year hanging around the Beaver program, learning from the best, competing with great talent, winning a whole lot of games would have been welcomed.
But instead, when the left-hander came into fall camp, surrounded by stars and cocooned by one of the best coaching staffs in the nation, Eisert hit the ground running. The simulated scrimmages with live hitting and pitching allowed Eisert to test his stuff against one of the best lineups in the nation. Having success against hitters such as Nick Madrigal, KJ Harrison and Trevor Larnach gave the freshman the kind of self-belief that he belonged at such an elite level.
"You have to trust yourself and believe that you're there for a reason," Eisert said. "You have to believe (OSU) picked you to be here. Sometimes you get roughed up a bit, but as long as you stay the course with the process and trust everything that's going on, you're usually more successful. You kind of have to do your own thing, work hard and see what happens. It's a lot more mental than physical when it comes to being successful at this level."
Eisert earned Yeskie's and Casey's trust early in the season — a task that's certainly not easy to achieve — and sustained that conviction all year. Casey is notorious for his quick hook. If a pitcher doesn't have his best stuff, the veteran skipper has no problem yanking the hurler and inserting another high-quality arm. The bench is arguably Casey's best motivator. The former National Coach of the Year is a stickler for strikes, efficiency and quick outs. His standards are lofty, but Eisert met them by putting his head down, working hard and making the most of his opportunities when called upon. Eisert's list of freshman season accomplishments speaks for itself. Three of his five saves came against archrival University of Oregon and former Metro rival Kenyon Yovan, who played for Westview and dueled with Eisert for three seasons. Each of those saves was at least 2 1/3 innings. On May 2, Eisert retired all 10 batters he faced in 3 1/3 relief innings against Oregon, striking out six, and earned his second save of the season. Playing in front of family and friends, Eisert struck out nine, including eight straight, in 3 1/3 innings of relief at Portland, earning his third win of the season.
"You have to prove yourself throughout the year," Eisert said. "If you're going well, they're more likely to go back to you. But there aren't a lot of long leashes when it comes to playing time. You have to seize that first opportunity and build on it. Casey wants the best for everybody and he wants to win as bad as anybody. He's going to put people in situations where he thinks they can succeed. He believes in each and every one us to do a job. You want to make him happy and succeed for him. He's just a great coach."
The Beavers' culture breeds competition from within the squad, something Eisert didn't shy away from. In the years to come, Casey will bring in more high school All-American pitchers and more competition to battle it out for those precious starting jobs, but the even-keeled Eisert relishes the challenge.
"If nobody's pushing you, then you might think you can coast," Eisert said. "But with guys right behind you, if you don't perform they'll come take your spot in a heartbeat. It keeps everyone working hard and staying focused and trying to get better every day."
Physically, Eisert has made big strides in strength and stamina, packing on 20 pounds of muscle over the last year or so thanks to an emphasis on core work and lower body power. Now up to a solid 200 pounds, the rising sophomore's velocity is higher than it was in high school. Eisert's control and command of pitches helped him get to the Division One level. With added consistent speed off the bump, Eisert plans on touching the low 90s by the end of the summer.
Eisert isn't playing organized baseball this summer for, say, the Portland Pickles or Corvallis Knights as some of the local products elect to do. Rather, Eisert is staying in Corvallis, working out six days a week and coming back to Aloha when he can. This last weekend, Eisert suited up in the Aloha Alumni Game where he roamed the outfield and took a couple of live hacks at the plate just as he did as a two-way Warrior star.
Most pitchers, Eisert said, want to eventually evolve into starting-caliber hurlers, though with Drew Rasmussen and Luke Heimlich expected to return, two of the three starting jobs figure to be filled in 2018. Still, Eisert said he's become content entering the game out of the bullpen, whether it's getting out of a bases loaded jam or protecting a two-run lead. Whatever will aid OSU's quest to return to Omaha and win another national chip.
"Honestly I just want to find the role that'll help my team win," Eisert said. "I want to do my best in that role and fulfill that job. Whatever makes the team better is what I'm willing to do and just go from there. Being in the bullpen gets the adrenaline going. If you get out of a jam you can get pumped and juiced. It really builds momentum for your offense and your team to come back and put up some runs.
Going into next year we have some unfinished business to do. I think that might fuel us for this coming year to take it that one step further and work even harder to get to that point."