‘Just amazing’: Willowbrook High School graduate Roycroft living the dream with Cardinals

Chris Roycroft admitted his original dream as a kid was to play for the Bulls.

It makes sense. The St. Louis Cardinals reliever stands 6-feet-7 and briefly played basketball at Aurora University. But walking across the grass at Wrigley Field on Friday confirmed his career path.

“(Basketball) was the first, initial dream I had and then I had to give up that to pursue baseball,” Roycroft said before the game. “I think I'm happy where I'm at.”

The Willowbrook High School graduate made his major-league debut on May 7 and collected his first win for the Cardinals on Thursday against the Pirates.

Growing up in Villa Park, Roycroft lived in West suburban neutral territory and visited both Chicago ballparks. So he could relate while tossing baseballs to kids in the bleachers before the game.

“I want to inspire as many kids as I can, so it's fun to do that,” he said. “I was actually a big White Sox fan, so I grew up going to those games a lot. I support both teams.

“Pregame I walked out here, no (players) were out here, the grounds crew was out here and I just kind of took it all in, took a deep breath. I did some stretching in the grass. It was almost like a surreal moment and just amazing.”

Roycroft's debut couldn't have been much more eventful. Facing the New York Mets at Busch Stadium, he started by striking out Francisco Lindor, then gave up a home run to the second batter, Pete Alonso.

“That was a roller coaster, the ups and the downs,” he said. “That's just part of the game. It will humble you really quick if you're not careful. I think it was a good thing that I experienced both of those and not just the high.”

After finishing as one of Aurora University's top pitchers in 2019, Roycroft, 26, was out of baseball for a couple years during the pandemic. He attended a tryout camp at the Bo Jackson Dome in Lockport, threw 97 mph and landed a job with the independent league Joliet Slammers. He signed with the Cardinals in 2022.

  St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chris Roycroft signs autographs for fans before Friday's game against the Cubs. Roycroft graduated from Willowbrook High School in Villa Park. Mike McGraw/

Roycroft has done well so far in the majors, with a 3.18 ERA in nine outings. He's throwing a sinker and four-seam fastball, both at 96 mph, as well as a slider. His four-seam has been really good, with a 14.3 hard-hit percentage, according to StatCast. The victory over Pittsburgh was his fourth consecutive scoreless outing.

Roycroft couldn't place a number on his cheering section. His family got plenty of TV time during his MLB debut in St. Louis, but Friday's game at Wrigley was packed.

“I know my immediate family's going to be here, mom and dad,” he said. “My grandpa's going to be here. I've been hearing my name a lot (from the seats), so I'm sure there's a bunch of people that I'm forgetting. It's going to be a cool series.”

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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