Lutheran South News

LS grad, Shawn Bertani grew up with Cardinals, thrives as Nationals executive

WASHINGTON — All those summers at Busch Stadium II watching her father Mike Bertani all but run the place and sometimes slipping onto the field for a run herself, or the seasons as a teenager when she worked as an usher, gave Shawn Bertani glimpses into the gears behind the ballgame. The perspective she gained as a St. Louis kid still guides her as a Washington Nationals executive.

The days are long, the season longer, the grind real and the game not always kind.

So, chase the moments, and treasure them.

“It’s the moments,” Bertani said Saturday, sitting in the Nats’ family room at Nationals Park. “It’s individual moments and sometimes they are on-the-field moments. It’s standing down on the field after I got all the families down there for the trophy presentation and I’m right down there. This is a moment that this city, these fans are going to remember for years and years, and I’m in the moment, right in the middle of it. . . . Being able to do community relations, we also get moments nobody else has. (Outfielder) Gerardo Parra went to a children’s hospital the Sunday before (the World Series) and we took toy baby sharks. The moment makes you stop and just go — I’m really fortunate to have that job.”

She had one of those moments recently as the team completed a sweep of her father’s team in the National League Championship Series. In the stands, after the final out, she hugged a colleague.
Then it was back to work.

Bertani, a graduate of Lutheran South High, is the Nationals’ executive director of player and community relations — a multi-pronged title that makes her the liaison between the business and charitable side of the ballclub and the clubhouse. She works closely with Nats general manager Mike Rizzo and the manager, whoever it has been in the seven seasons she’s been with the Nats.

Part of her job is fielding requests for appearances and promotions. Her familiarity with the rhythm of the ballpark and clubhouse culture help know “it’s not about getting a guy to do something but about getting the right guy to do the right thing.”

Her career in baseball began, unofficially, as an usher at the kid’s corner in Busch II, and later she joined the Cardinals’ community relations staff. After a brief departure from baseball to work in corporate relations, Bertani returned to the game — with Houston, for which she worked until going to Washington. October has been her personal reunion tour, sending her to her old haunts as her organization chases something her father knows well.

A ring.

He’s got a handful of them.

Like his daughter, Mike Bertani began his career in baseball as a teen with the Cardinals, and more than six decades later he can still be seen helping around the ballpark. For years he determined whether the weather was too lousy for a game. He helped corral Rally Squirrel (and its cousins). Let Whitey manage the team. Bertani managed Busch. Having ushered the Cardinals from one ballpark to a new one, Bertani retired from full-time work in 2011 after the World Series championship — the team’s fourth with him as an official.

“We spent our summers at Busch Stadium II, going to games (and) being behind the scenes and being in the offices were very normal for me,” Shawn said. “I think it’s the foundation for everything I’m doing right now. I got totally hooked as a kid. So as I work at our youth baseball space now I get it. We’ve got to introduce the Nationals, we’ve got to introduce baseball to these kids because that’s when it happens. It’s personal for me. That’s how it happened for me.”

One example is the outreach the Nationals have made with local youth teams in the D.C. area. Look at their uniforms. In 2020, there will be 27 youth leagues in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland that will wear Nationals gear, of varying colors and logos to tell the teams apart. Bertani described how they’re building a following for a young team — the Nats relocated from Montreal before the 2005 season — and that has to include connecting with youngsters, especially in a locale like Washington, where so many residents are transplants.

Part of community relations also is relating to players, and what Bertani learned from her time with the Cardinals can benefit the business of baseball. She works with the families of players — to attend games, to travel to playoff games, to get into NLCS celebrations — and that connection can be a competitive advantage.
“I saw it happen in St. Louis with (Mark) McGwire, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, where if they’re happy there, if their life is there, if their family is happy, then they might give you the hometown discount to stay, or will want to stay,” Bertani said. “The money, the contract being similar — not exactly the same, but similar — maybe that feeling of the family being comfortable and happy and taken care of goes a long way to making the decision. We’ve all kind of figured out that value. We want to attract good players. Players talk. Families talk. They know which team provides a good experience. That can make a difference.”

The Bertani family was split during the NLCS, Shawn said. Everyone was for the Cardinals, except her.

She thinks her mother quietly leaned her way. Her dad, a boy from The Hill who had a career at the coolest place in town and handfuls of rings to show for it, did too. Including the 2011 and all NL championships, Mike has been an official with the Cardinals for nine rings, among the most of any exec for the team. Shawn is still looking for her first. The timing of here departure from the Cardinals, in 2003 and time in Houston, from 2008-2012, means she’s just missed titles at each place.
“I missed it in St. Louis. I missed it in Houston,” Bertani said, laughing. “So it would be ironic if my first one comes through St. Louis, through Houston.”

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