Sean Casey did not handle it particularly well when he learned the Cincinnati Reds had traded him to the Pirates, even though he hails from Upper St. Clair. He was, as he acknowledged emotionally at the time, rattled by the prospect of having to leave his adopted city. Less than a week later, he was donning a Pirates jersey at a PNC Park news conference and pumping his fist. Now, he is preparing for his first spring training in Bradenton, Fla., with pitchers and catchers required to report Thursday. And his enthusiasm does not appear to have abated in the slightest. Dejan Kovacevic, the Post-Gazette's Pirates beat writer, phoned Casey at his Florida home to ask him questions.
Was there a pivotal moment that brightened your feeling about the trade?
Casey: The first couple days were really tough, I think. I made a lot of calls, talked to a lot of people. On the third day, I talked to Jim Tracy on the phone. And he told me, 'You know what? You're the guy we were really looking for. We're excited to have you here. We're excited about what you bring to the club.' For me, it was an immediate feeling of acceptance. And I got an idea right away that Pittsburgh is trying to do some things. I was set after that talk.
Did you ever think, while with the Reds, about someday playing in Pittsburgh?
Casey: When I was a kid, I thought the Pirates were the only big-league team. That was all you played for, a chance to play for them. You grow up in Pittsburgh, you want to play for the Pirates. But, no, once I was playing in Cincinnati, I never envisioned playing anywhere else or even coming back to Pittsburgh. But -- bam! -- here I was.
Last month, the Reds fired Dan O'Brien, the general manager who traded you. Have you wondered if you might still be there if O'Brien had been replaced sooner?
Casey: You know what? Things happen for a reason. I haven't thought about it, and I'm not dwelling a lot on the Reds. I'm supposed to be in Pittsburgh. There's a reason I'm with this team. The fact that Dan O'Brien got fired or whatever, the Reds are dealing with that issue. I'm a Pirate now. I'm in this city, back where I grew up, and that's where I'm supposed to be.
How much will it mean to you to be closer to your parents, Jim and Joan, in the South Hills?
Casey: It really is a blessing. As you get older in this game, you don't have a chance to spend the time you want with your family, especially with us living down in Florida now in the offseasons. The fact that I can now just call my mom and stop over for lunch or drop the kids off or just be close to my friends ... that's priceless for me. To be able to work in this city and play for the Pirates is pretty special all around.
With the extensive charitable work you did in Cincinnati, are there still ties you can keep?
Casey: Oh, sure. Just because you leave there doesn't mean you don't maintain relationships. I'm still involved with Lighthouse Youth Services there. I still talk to my little brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, too, and I'll always do that, probably for the rest of my life. They do so many good things for people that my wife and I saw no reason to not deal with those things, which are very emotional to me.
As an athlete who has given back to the community and one who grew up in Pittsburgh, is there someone here with whom you can identify?
Casey: Well, we all know and appreciate the great work Mario Lemieux has done with the local hospitals, especially with cancer research. He's a giant in our city, and he was a great player on top of that. I loved going to the Igloo as a kid to watch him play.
Do you expect to enjoy the role of local boy on the team?
Casey: Yes, I will absolutely love it. I always tell the stories of going to Three Rivers when Barry Bonds and all those guys were playing, and I would come to see John Wehner because he was a Pittsburgh guy. Honestly. It's kind of like the way Pittsburgh people always take care of their own. There's that pride in being from Pittsburgh. You can't explain it to people who aren't from this city. Hopefully, kids will come out. I'd love that. I'd love for them to say, 'Hey, there's the local boy.'
Can you imagine how Pittsburgh might react to a winning baseball team?
Casey: I've seen it. I saw what it was like when Barry Bonds and all those great players were there in the early '90s. It can be like that again. And I think we can feed off the atmosphere in Pittsburgh sports. It was a great time to be a Steelers fan, obviously. And I think it's a great time to be a Penguins fan, with Sidney Crosby there. But I think it's going to be a great time to be a Pirates fan very soon, too.
You always were pretty demonstrative at first base when your infielders would make a great play. What would pump you up more, hitting a home run or being at the end of a great Jack Wilson-Jose Castillo twin killing?
Casey: Oh, the double play, for sure. Especially with those two guys. They're so acrobatic and work so well together. It will be a thrill to end up with the ball after some of their plays. And don't forget Joe Randa over there at third.
Obviously, you cannot wear No. 21 in Pittsburgh as you did in Cincinnati. What number will you wear?
Casey: I'll be No. 25. I like Jim Thome. No other reason.
Do you think the team can finally have a winning season?
Casey: Look, you know going into spring training if you've got a chance or not. You can go in there thinking, 'We've got no chance.' But that's not the case here. These players, we feel like we've got a good chance. We're going to have a good team. We're solid. If our pitching can do what we're capable of doing, we're going to win some ballgames.