Thursday, April 06, 2006
Emotions high as Casey returns to Cincinnati
By Paul Meyer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
CINCINNATI -- Perhaps there will be a sign or two in Great American Ballpark tonight welcoming home Sean Casey.
Maybe there will be a banner or two.
For sure, there will be a standing ovation in Casey's honor. And that should make his first at-bat in Cincinnati as a Pirate quite a moment.
"I'll definitely have some nerves going," Casey said the other day as he thought ahead to his return to the city where he was -- and might still be -- called "The Mayor."
"I'm a human being. You're not a robot out there. You're not superhuman. You play baseball. I'm sure a lot of emotions will come back."
"I think it was very emotional for him the first game in spring training when we played the Reds in Sarasota," said Joe Randa, who was Casey's teammate with the Reds for the first four months of last season. "It's not an easy adjustment. I think this is going to be a difficult game for him."
But maybe not so difficult for Casey's former teammates. After all, many of them saw him wearing a Pirates uniform in all six of the games the Reds and Pirates played against each other in spring training.
"The first couple of times you saw him in the spring, that was the emotional time," said outfielder Adam Dunn, one of Casey's best buddies. "It's probably going to be more emotional for the fans."
"If he'd been in Arizona for spring training, that would make a big difference," outfielder Austin Kearns said. "But he was right there [in Bradenton, just 12 miles from Sarasota]. Still, it will be weird."
And maybe just a wee bit emotional.
"He's a class-act guy," infielder Ryan Freel said: "You want a guy like him in every clubhouse you're a part of. He brings a lot to the table -- not just on the field but off the field, too.
"The guy can flat-out hit, and he's a guy you can have as your best friend at the same time. Playing with him, he helped me mature a lot in terms of life in general and how to approach it. You just can't say enough good things about a guy like that."
Or, like Dunn and Kearns, enough things period.
"The weirdest thing for us will be that we won't see him strolling into the clubhouse wearing the same clothes for three or four days in a row," Kearns said, with a grin.
Added Dunn, laughing, "It's a good thing he was born to hit or he'd have been the kid other kids took his lunch money from at school."
Casey smiled when informed of Dunn's comment.
"Typical Dunner," he said. "I think Dunner believes he was the coolest guy ever. That everywhere he's gone he's the coolest guy going, and everyone else is a nerd. That's the way he views life. Dunner is the guy who took every kid's lunch money. He's the bully. He is the bully. That's Dunner."
It's obvious that Casey was immensely popular with and universally respected by his Cincinnati teammates.
"Sean Casey was the face of the Reds for the eight years he was here," Dunn said. "When Barry [Larkin] kind of stepped aside, whenever anyone talked about the Reds, everyone talked about Sean Casey. He meant a lot to this team and meant a lot to this city. He's one of those people you hate to see go."
"He was a guy everybody looked up to as far as his leadership and what he brought to the field every day," Kearns said. "He's a guy who was there for everybody and who cared about what everybody did or was doing. He kind of looked out for everybody."
Randa picked up on that quickly after joining the Reds last season.
"I think it all starts with the way he plays the game," Randa said. "I think players in a clubhouse respect what guys do on the field and the way they go about their business more than anything they do off the field. I think that's where it starts.
"I think Sean is not a guy who puts himself above anybody else, no matter if he's an All-Star that year or he's not having a good year. He always wants to be one of the guys. I think that is No. 2. I think those are two really valuable contributions that he makes to the team. You put those things together, and it's hard not to like a guy like that.
"He has the ability to have all different kinds of people come to him, whether it's guys who are strong in faith or guys who live pretty freely or guys from different ethnic backgrounds.
"I think everyone's drawn to him because he listens and he wants to be on that same level. He wants to be like everybody else and just be a good teammate. I think that's why so many people are drawn to him."
And that includes the fans.
"They call him 'The Mayor' for a reason," Kearns said. "He definitely has a lot of fans."
That's because Casey and his wife, Mandi, lived in and became part of the Cincinnati community.
Casey was involved in many charities, including Big Brothers/Big Sisters. His "little brother" -- Ben Turner -- has been connected to Casey for seven years.
Mandi worked at Lighthouse Youth Services.
"It helped runaway kids, kids with drug abuse," Casey said. "We became real close with that organization."
And real close with their neighbors in Mason, Ohio, a burgeoning bedroom community about 25 miles north of downtown Cincinnati.
"We had good neighbors," Casey said. "I wasn't like just a big baseball player. I lived there. I was part of the community. I did everything that everyone else did in the community.
"I always consider myself a working-class person. Those people were working-class people. I enjoyed going out in public. I enjoyed working with the charities. You just get to know people. We met a lot of people. We lived in a neighborhood. We just felt part of Cincinnati."
Both of the couple's children, Andrew, 4, and Jacob, 3, were born there.
"It's a lot like Pittsburgh -- a small-town city, good people, good down-to-earth people. Nothing was too overwhelming.
"There was a lot of things for kids to do, playgrounds and stuff. I'd come home after the games and -- bam! -- you had like a family life.
"I had great teammates over there. Dunner and Kearnsie. You get like a family atmosphere and you get close to guys like [clubhouse manager] Rick Stowe, [traveling secretary] Gary Wahoff, [media relations director] Rob Butcher.
"It's tough to leave people like that. Eight years of your life with those people all the time. I loved that. And I loved the fans. They were so good to me. They welcomed me with open arms the first day I came there in 1998. I had such a positive experience in Cincinnati. I think that's why it was tough to leave."
"Tough" might not cover it.
"I was stunned -- stunned," Casey said when he learned he'd been traded to the Pirates for pitcher Dave Williams in December. "To tell you the truth, I thought I was going to be that guy who plays his whole career with one team, but that's just not reality. It's not the nature of the business. It was a lesson for me, but it took me a couple days to get over it."
It helped that Casey is from Upper St. Clair.
"The one good thing was, I was going to Pittsburgh, where my folks are," Casey said. "I grew up there. I loved it there. I had some good friends there. [Mandi's] family is in Cleveland, two hours away. So there were a lot of positives."
What helped, too, was the Pirates' signing Randa and Jeromy Burnitz.
"Then, I started getting excited," Casey said. "I thought, 'Hey, we've got a pretty good team.' It kind of all came together. Heck, I could have [been traded] to a [West Coast] team. I feel like it was a blessing I was able to come to Pittsburgh."
Small wonder, then, that Casey's mind will be a swirl of emotions when he steps into the batter's box for the first time tonight and hears and sees that standing ovation and maybe even doffs his batting helmet to thank the fans.
"I have to realize when you get all the stuff out of the way that when I cross the lines, I have a job to do," Casey said. "Hopefully, I'm able to put my nerves aside and just focus on the game and get a few hits."
Predicted Randa: "I'd say there's an 85 to 90 percent chance he's going to get a knock."
They don't call him 'The Mayor' for nothing
Casey honors that don't appear on the back of his baseball card:
Nominee for the Branch Rickey Award in 2004 and '05
Nominee for The Sporting News' Good Guy Award in 2004 and '05
Nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award in 2004 and '05
Twice received the baseball writers' Good Guy Award.
With his wife, part of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati
Comments made to Post-Gazette writers after the Pirates traded for him in December:
"In all honesty, he's the finest person I've ever met." -- Marty Brennaman, Reds broadcaster.
"It's a big loss. A huge, huge loss." -- Kathy List, of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati after he was traded away.
"He was one of a kind." -- Reds GM Dave O'Brien