Thursday, February 23, 2006
Casey makes a good first impression
By Rob Rossi
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Sean Casey was still an up-and-coming, minor-league prospect with the Cleveland Indians in the spring of 1997 when he and a few friends traveled to Gulf Coast Community College.
"I remember talking to Bill Mazeroski -- his son was a coach for the baseball team there -- and thinking, 'This is the greatest moment of my career,'" Casey recalled.
Make that almost the greatest moment of his career.
Wednesday was pretty sweet for Casey, too.
As position players worked out for the first time under the watchful eye of new manager Jim Tracy, Casey and Mazeroski met again -- chatting and laughing after the Pirates' Hall-of-Famer spent about 20 minutes hitting ground balls to Casey during a fielding drill.
For the record, Mazeroski lined a few ropes to Casey, who fielded them all cleanly, as though his defensive reputation depended on it.
"Not bad, huh?" Casey said of the scene. "It's pretty cool having Bill Mazeroski hitting ground balls to you during your first practice."
In addition to his work at first base, Casey did some hitting of his own yesterday -- spraying balls to all fields -- during a brief batting practice session. Afterward, he gladly signed about 25 autographs for Pirates fans who have been seemingly forever awaiting the Upper St. Clair graduate's donning of the black and gold.
More than a few Reds fans showed up at Pirate City, too -- hoping to pass along well-wishes to the player who was known as "The Mayor" during seven highly successful seasons in Cincinnati.
Casey, who during spring training will stay at a home in Sarasota, where the Reds train, clearly appreciated the support from fans of both the Pirates and Reds.
Make no mistake, however; he is now a Pirate through-and-through.
And, like his manager, he's fairly impressed with the talent he saw surrounding him yesterday.
"We've got a pretty good club here, really," Casey said. "And (Tracy) is doing a really good job of setting an atmosphere that's moving us in the right direction."
Setting such an atmosphere was the intent behind a speech Tracy gave to his team prior to the afternoon workout.
"Yes, there is," Tracy said when asked if the mind-set of the Pirates' organization needed changing after 13 consecutive seasons of losing baseball. "And I think we took a lot of major steps in that direction (yesterday) morning.
"When a perception has been the way it's been for a significant time, I think there is a mind-set that needs changing."
Though neither Tracy nor any of his players would address specifically what he said during the speech, the message he delivered was clearly focused on erasing any built-in excuses these Pirates might have for continuing with the franchise's losing ways.
"He wants to win now," said All-Star left fielder Jason Bay. "He made that pretty clear."
Bay, for one, was impressed with yesterday's unusually concentrated workout.
"Usually on the first day it's pretty lackadaisical and everybody is feeling their way around a little bit, but I really got the feeling that everybody was over that," Bay said. "Everybody came in a little more ready, a little more focused as far as getting some things done."
Notes: General manager Dave Littlefield confirmed that all position players reported to camp as expected and that all had passed their team physicals.
Seventeen pitchers threw bullpen sessions, the most since camp started last Friday. Included among those pitchers were Sean Burnett, Oliver Perez and Ian Snell -- each of whom had not thrown a bullpen since Feb. 19. Roberto Hernandez threw a bullpen for the second consecutive day. Pitching coach Jim Colborn reported all of his pitchers to be healthy.
Outfielder Jeromy Burnitz, who signed with the club as a free agent during the offseason, fit right in with his fellow new Pirates, Casey and third baseman Joe Randa. "When you've been on as many (teams) as I have, it's always easy to fit in with a new clubhouse," said Burnitz, who is playing for his seventh major-league organization.
Rob Rossi can be reached at email@example.com or (412) 380-5635.