It's a brand-new ballgame for Brandon Eisert, even if the surroundings are very familiar.
Eisert was drafted out of Oregon State University in 2019, an 18th-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays. He didn't get into an official game in the Blue Jays organization that summer, and then in 2020, the minor league baseball season was canceled.
That means 2021 is Eisert's first taste of playing professionally. So far, it suits him just fine: He's pitched to a 1.42 ERA over nine games, all of them in relief, while striking out 28 batters in just 19 innings.
Eisert was a standout for Aloha High School from 2013 to 2016 — before going on to Oregon State, for whom he pitched from 2017 to 2019. This year, he's playing home games just a few miles away from where he grew up, at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro.
"I'm able to live at home and just drive to the field," Eisert said. "It's not too far away."
It's a happy accident for Eisert that his season worked out this way. He was originally assigned to the Blue Jays' Low-A minor league affiliate in Dunedin, Florida. But the Blue Jays evidently saw all they needed to see of him at Low-A in just two games, in which he allowed just an unearned run on two hits and a walk while striking out five. He was promoted to the High-A Vancouver Canadians a week into the minor league season.
The Canadians normally play their home games in Vancouver, British Columbia. But this year, with the Canadian border still closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadians are sharing Ron Tonkin Field with its "usual" home team, the Hillsboro Hops.
"I played there in high school, I played there in college and now I'm playing there professionally," Eisert said of Ron Tonkin Field, which was built for the Hops' debut season in 2013, when Eisert was in high school. "It's unfortunate that we can't play in Vancouver, but it's been nice to be close to home."
Eisert's family has been able to come see him play, as have some of his coaches from Aloha.
Tige McSwain was Aloha's head baseball coach when Eisert played there.
For the Warriors, Eisert was both a pitcher and an outfielder. He even played one game at shortstop, McSwain noted.
"It is really awesome to see him doing so well," McSwain told Pamplin Media Group.
McSwain added, "This has always been his goal, to have the opportunity to play the game he loves at the highest level. He has worked his tail off to get to this point, and trust me, he isn't done."
Eisert says it's been nice to see his high school coaches are still following his career. Being able to lean on his family at a time when most of his teammates are far from home is a plus, too.
"I've just been super-fortunate to be able to play so close to home and have that support super-close," Eisert said.
As for his work on the mound, Eisert says he's taking it one game at a time.
"Getting back into baseball, it's always nice to have some good results," he said, adding, "Really, it just comes down to going out there and competing — and I think I've done that so far, and the results will come."
A left-handed reliever with the Canadians, Eisert uses a four-pitch mix to baffle hitters. Heading into this week's series against the Spokane Indians, Eisert's ratio of strikeouts to walks is the fourth-best on the team, showing that his stuff plays at this level.
Asked what has been the key to his success so far, Eisert said, "I think just being able to mix pitches for strikes — being able to use the fastball and locate it well but also have the off-speed pitches to keep them off-balance and thinking about what you'll be able to throw for strikes."
While Eisert has been off to a hot start as one of the most reliable arms out of a capable bullpen on a winning team, the Aloha alumnus isn't getting ahead of himself.
"I'm just going to take it one game at a time, really — get ready for the next appearance, try to do my job," Eisert said.
Eisert acknowledges that he wants to keep moving up in the organization, but this year, he's focused on staying healthy and keeping on track. That means answering the call whenever his manager, former big leaguer Donnie Murphy, needs him — and in the life of a reliever, that isn't always going to be on the exact day or at the exact time Eisert expects. He has to stay ready.
McSwain recalled that while Eisert was the team leader as a high school senior in 2017, he wasn't especially vocal. He led by example.
"He let his game do his talking," McSwain remarked.
Of his former star, McSwain said, "He is a great young man from a great family, and I was blessed that he stayed with us and I had the opportunity to coach him. He could have played at Jesuit or Central Catholic, but he was and will forever be a 'Warrior,' and we couldn't be more happy for him and proud of him."
By Mark Miller
Editor-in-Chief, Washington and Columbia counties
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