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T-Rat Talk: Evan Reifert

Reifert Returns Home
August 31, 2021

It was starting to get late on a Thursday night in Cedar Rapids as the Kernels batted against the Timber Rattlers in the bottom of the sixth inning, but one group in the crowd didn’t mind: The moment they had been waiting for was about to arrive. They had made

It was starting to get late on a Thursday night in Cedar Rapids as the Kernels batted against the Timber Rattlers in the bottom of the sixth inning, but one group in the crowd didn’t mind: The moment they had been waiting for was about to arrive.

They had made the trip from nearby Wilton, Iowa, about an hour away, and they were rewarded for their efforts when native son and Timber Rattlers reliever Evan Reifert came into the game.

“I definitely noticed it, for sure,” Reifert said. “It was a pretty bare crowd, but then I had some family up in the stands that were cheering. I definitely think it’s a bit of an advantage knowing I have some fans up there cheering for me. It’s a cool deal.”

Even without the advantage of his hometown fans, Reifert had been very good for the Timber Rattlers in 2021. After a brief stumble following his promotion to Wisconsin he had allowed just two runs over a span of 27 innings across 16 games. He recorded 46 strikeouts and walked just nine batters over that span, allowing opponents to bat just .152 with a .243 on-base and .261 slugging.

On this night, with friends and family cheering him on, Reifert continued his momentum and worked 2 1/3 scoreless innings to send the Rattlers to the ninth inning with a lead. Two nights later he was back on that same mound for another scoreless inning and a third, this time recording all four outs via strikeout.

It’s been a pretty impressive run and season for a pitcher who was an undrafted free agent that had never thrown a professional pitch a year ago at this time.

Evan Reifert, a Timber Rattler in 2019, was named the Arizona Fall League's Reliever of the Year in 2022.

When the 2020 MLB draft was shortened to five rounds it changed the landscape for pitchers like Reifert, who was pitching for the University of Central Missouri. Reifert had been drafted two years earlier by the Rangers but did not sign a professional contract. Instead, following the 2019 season he transferred from North Iowa Area Community College to Central Missouri. His career on his new campus was brief, however, as he pitched in just four Division 2 college games before the season was cut short prematurely.

Reifert was not selected in the draft that season, but his efforts did not go completely unnoticed: The Brewers signed him as an undrafted free agent. His professional debut would have to wait, however, as the minor league season was suspended.

“I pretty much just trained back at home. I took it as well as I could take it, really. There’s not a whole lot of people around here where I live, in Iowa. I was throwing into a net the majority of the offseason,” Reifert said.

Reifert did eventually find a training partner: Fellow Central Missouri alum Jonathan Sprinkle signed with the Astros as an undrafted free agent the same week Reifert inked his deal, and the two worked out together for a bit in Kansas City. Their training regimen must have been effective: Sprinkle has already reached the AA level in his first professional season with the Astros.

Reifert, meanwhile, was promoted from Carolina to Wisconsin after just five professional outings where he recorded 16 strikeouts in nine innings. Since his promotion he’s been one of the most effective arms in a very good Timber Rattlers bullpen, and he credits a simple approach for his success this season.

“Keep trying to get a little bit better every single day, assessing every single outing and figuring out how I can get a little better each and every time I step on the mound. That’s the key, just ‘how can I get ready for the next day and be ready to go?’ So I’ve been keeping it simple and just going day-to-day with it,” Reifert said.

After pitching just a handful of games in 2020, Reifert is fifth on the Rattlers with 27 appearances this season and his 2.51 ERA is the best on the team among pitchers who have thrown at least 43 innings. To date Reifert said the biggest thing he’s proud of is a change in mindset.

“I think just the ability to move on from outing to outing, that’s been a big thing for me. I know I’ve gotten stuck in the past and haven’t been able to get past one outing, whether it was really good or really bad. I think just moving on, outing to outing, not taking too much time to overanalyze the situation itself, just taking it day-by-day, and just moving on from there. That’s been the biggest improvement I can see for myself,” Reifert said.

All told, it’s been a remarkable professional debut season for a pitcher who said he “had no idea what I was getting into” entering the year.

“It’s been a fun ride, that’s all I can really say,” Reifert said. “It’s a lot of baseball, the most baseball I’ve played at once. It’s been a lot thrown at me, but compared to the expectations coming in, it’s a little more than I expected but I think I’m handling it pretty well.”

Going from a brief stay at the NCAA Division 2 level to High-A professional baseball in a year is a big jump, and Reifert said the extra information available at this level has been a new experience.

“We’ve had scouting reports and that’s been adjustment for me, just knowing a little more about the hitter before you go into the game, that’s been a pretty big adjustment for me,” Reifert said. “Especially coming into Wisconsin, I didn’t have anything like that before. So that was pretty brand new to me, and took me a little bit of time to adjust to that.”

Reifert, however, was not the only reliever experiencing a significant run of success out of the Timber Rattlers bullpen. Around the same time Reifert had his stretch of two runs over 30 2/3 innings, teammate Nash Walters also had a streak where he allowed just two earned runs across 15 2/3 innings. Reifert’s streak also overlapped with a stretch where Taylor Floyd allowed just one earned run in more than a month (Floyd has since been promoted to AA Biloxi), a run where Brady Schanuel only allowed a run in three of eleven outings and a streak where Harold Chirino allowed just two earned runs over a span of 16 innings.

“We’re all out every single day, six days a week with each other. So we’re around each other a lot, we bounce a lot of ideas off of each other, and there’s a lot of good guys out of the bullpen we’ve been working with. So it’s been a really good culture, and between us and the coaches we’ve been relaying a lot of information. It’s been good,” Reifert said.

Meanwhile, the Rattlers’ recent road trip to Cedar Rapids and Quad Cities gave Reifert an opportunity to show his bullpen mates around his old neighborhood. Reifert was the subject of an article in the Quad Cities Times and actually got to stay at his childhood home for much of the trip, a rare luxury in professional baseball.

“It’s good to see friends and family. It’s been fun to see them out at the ballpark, really. I’m glad I can get that opportunity for them to even come here and watch me play a little. It’s cool. I grew up watching River Bandits games all the time. It’s cool to be here and play here now,” Reifert said.

Even though it’s a little farther for his family to come and see him, however, Reifert described Neuroscience Group Field as “a great atmosphere,” and said he’s enjoyed the Timber Rattlers’ variety of theme nights.

“I love Appleton, it’s a great crowd, we’ve got a lot of really fun nights out there,” Reifert said. “It’s a very interesting time going to the ballpark and being like, ‘what have we got tonight?’ The crowds are great, it’s just a lot of fun in Appleton, so I can speak very highly of it for sure.”