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Thread: Casey at the Chat

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    Casey at the Chat

    Opened up the sports section of the Detroit Free Press this morning to this entertaining feature on Sean Casey. MLB could use a few more characters like The Mayor....




    Sean Casey, left, laughs with Nate Robertson in the dugout. Sometimes, Casey is so nice that teammates give him a hard time. His closest friends, like Jason Grilli, don't always find it endearing when Casey pats an opposing batter on the back.

    Sean Casey, left, laughs with Nate Robertson in the dugout. Sometimes, Casey is so nice that teammates give him a hard time. His closest friends, like Jason Grilli, don't always find it endearing when Casey pats an opposing batter on the back.

    Despite a lack of speed on the bases, Sean Casey is a career .302 hitter. Entering Saturday, Casey was batting .302 this season.

    Most major league first basemen offer at least some kind of greeting when opposing batters reach first. Then there is the Tigers' Sean Casey, a soft-handed, gap-hitting human Rolodex, capable of recalling minute details about the lives of nearly every player who enters his corner fiefdom.

    Or at least it seems that way.

    "I remember last year in Pittsburgh," recalled Tigers centerfielder Curtis Granderson when Casey was still playing for the Pirates. "I ended up at first. And he said, 'Man, you're a little guy. I didn't know you had as much power as you did.' Now, I had just gotten a single, so his comment didn't make sense. And then he told me he'd been watching highlights on TV."

    Granderson was halfway into his first full season.

    "I couldn't believe he even knew who I was," he said.

    It is not an uncommon reaction around the sport, and it's part of the reason Casey was voted the friendliest guy in baseball in a Sports Illustrated poll in May. In fact, the vote wasn't close: More than 460 players were polled, and Casey took almost half the votes. The players who tied for second, Jim Thome of the White Sox and Mike Sweeney of the Royals, took roughly 30.

    Last month, when the Tigers were in Washington playing the Nationals, Granderson toured Congress with Casey and a few other teammates.

    "... And we are walking up when a security guard with a rifle spotted us. He looked intense. Until he saw Sean," Granderson said.

    The guard and the chattiest player in baseball began talking. Then Casey slipped inside to watch the Senate vote, and Granderson heard whispers behind him, because a group of tourists recognized Casey. He knew them, too. They'd bumped into the loquacious first baseman a few years back.

    And on it went.

    And on it goes. Casey the gabber. Casey the one-man welcome wagon. Casey the discreet concierge, offering opponents help in their off-the-field lives.

    "He's amazing," said Torii Hunter, the Minnesota Twins centerfielder who was in town for a three-game set before the All-Star break. "I can't say what we talk about. But he's the best."

    Casey has yet to find a conversation he wouldn't enter -- or start. Sometimes, when a player reaches first, he asks about his children. Sometimes, he asks whether a "situation" is smoother after the player has been traded. And sometimes, he simply offers encouragement.

    "Hey, nice swing." Or, "Nice to see you." Or, "Nice to see you playing well."

    Sometimes, Casey is so nice that his teammates give him a hard time. His closest friends, like relief pitcher Jason Grilli, don't always find it endearing when Casey pats an opposing batter on the back.

    "I tell him he can't be telling these guys, 'Hey, that was awesome, man!' I mean, try tearing them down for me a little, eh?"

    But Grilli shrugs it off, because he knows the reason Casey encourages hitters and offers banter is because Casey gets it.

    "He understands this is a platform to reach beyond himself," Grilli said.

    Who wouldn't want to share a clubhouse with someone like that?

    "You get to know so many different people from different countries in this game," Casey said. "I think it's fascinating to get to know what their stories are."

    Because of that, his story is pretty interesting, too.

    Practice, practice, practice

    Casey inherited his storytelling from his father. He picked up his conversation skills from his mother. Even now, he calls her almost daily, usually on the way to the park.

    They talk about nothing. They talk about everything.

    "Sometimes it's for 40 minutes, sometimes it's just a few," he said. "It's great. Your mom is your mom."

    Although some professional athletes might not easily admit such a relationship, Casey doesn't bother with such insecurity.

    "Why should I?" he said.

    Besides, he added, "my wife talks to her more than I do."

    Casey grew up in Upper St. Clair, Pa., a suburb of Pittsburgh. He began playing baseball at age 5.

    "My dad never pushed. It was just fun," Casey said.

    But when he reached high school, he didn't play as a freshman. He blamed the player ahead of him, who he thought was a coach's pet. He complained to his father, seeking sympathy.

    He received a bag full of tokens instead. Casey took those tokens to a batting cage and hit balls. Every day after school was the same -- thousands of pitches, hours of practice.

    "I had been looking to blame someone else," he said. "My dad helped me realize it was me. He bought me the tokens and told me to work."

    He hasn't stopped hitting since. Even when scouts at major league tryouts sent him home before he'd had a chance to bat because his 60-yard dash was too slow. Even when Division I schools passed him over despite his reputation as one of the best hitters in western Pennsylvania. Even when he finally reached professional baseball and coaches kept trying to change his swing.

    He was never a power hitter, never a base-stealer, never that five-tool player. But everywhere he went, he could hit. That fact often was lost in the stereotype of what baseball players should look like. That gave him fire.

    "I didn't want my story to be, 'I'm not good enough.' My story was, 'I am good enough. And I'm going to walk away on my own terms.' That was my chip."

    More than 10 years after breaking into the majors, Casey is still hitting. Three times, he has made the All-Star team. Five times, he has hit .300. Last year, he helped get the Tigers to the Series and batted over .500 once he got there. This year, after struggling early, he is back at .300, finding the holes and the gaps.

    Said Vance Wilson, the Tigers' backup catcher who has spent the year on the disabled list: "It just seems like whenever we need a hit to bring in a run, he's there." As for Casey's role in the clubhouse and dugouts, Wilson said, "he's like having a second wife on the team."

    Casey at the chat

    A couple of weeks ago, during the first game of a long home stand against Texas, Casey slapped a grounder in the hole between first and second. He beat the throw to first.

    Immediately, he began talking. Eventually, he moved to second when Craig Monroe walked. Once he got there, all he could do was nod, as he couldn't talk to the shortstop and second baseman, who were manning their territory out of earshot.

    Finally, he scurried to third when Brandon Inge bunted. The trip there had been unusual for Casey. He rarely got infield hits. He didn't often move around the base on the strength of someone's bunt.

    Yet when he got to third, he said nothing of his unusual -- for him -- foray that night. Instead, he asked Ramon Vazquez, the third baseman, how he was enjoying Texas and whether it was better for him than Cleveland, where he'd played last year.

    They talked between pitches. Another conversation in the small world of professional baseball, a world Casey helps make smaller.

    That role began in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 1994, after his sophomore year at the University of Richmond. He didn't only hit -- he also talked to everyone. "The concession guy, the announcer, the fans," Casey said. "I knew everybody."

    His coach at the time started calling him the mayor.

    "Hey, Casey, you lobbying for votes? You running for office?"

    He wasn't, of course. He was sweeping away the lines that separate those who watch from those who play. Not surprising, the nickname "mayor" stuck. In Cincinnati, where he played for eight seasons, he was known as the "Mayor of Riverfront." Now, he is simply the Mayor.

    "He has a unique ability to strike a conversation with anybody at any time," said Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon. "He also knows how difficult this game is. He had to work hard to become the player he is. He doesn't take it for granted."

    So when a batter rips a mid-90s heater that tails away from him and successfully reaches base, Casey acknowledges the feat, even if his inquiry distracts the runner.

    "When we were in Philly, the third-base coach told me Casey was talking so much that his players weren't paying attention to his signs," said Inge.

    Still, few take umbrage with the man who has taken time to learn something about the people who play the game with him. It's human nature to gravitate toward that. Even in major league baseball.

    "I want to be remembered for more than hitting," Casey said.

    And he will.

    Contact SHAWN WINDSOR at 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com.

    ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
    THE CASEY FILE

    Who: Sean Casey, Tigers first baseman.
    Ht./wt.: 6-4, 237 pounds.
    Age: 33.
    Bats: Left.
    Experience: 11th season.
    2007 salary: $4 million.
    Family: Wife Mandi, sons Andrew, 5, and Jacob, 4, and daughter Carli, 1.

    Stats:
    YR '06* '07 TOT
    G 112 82 1,275
    R 47 26 662
    HR 8 2 128
    RBI 59 35 699
    BB 33 28 449
    SO 43 26 536
    BA .272 .302 .302
    * Includes games with Detroit and Pittsburgh. Casey was acquired July 31 from Pittsburgh. '07 stats entering Saturday.


    FUN FACTS

    On how he got nicknamed the Mayor: "My coaches in the Cape Cod League (in 1994), Mike Kirby and Bill Mosiello. They started it, calling me the Mayor all the time, saying I was always lobbying for votes, talking to everybody."

    On chitchatting at first base: "I enjoy talking, socializing and stuff. That's why first base is probably the best position I could play. I wouldn't know what to do over at short."

    On cooking for his family: "I do a lot -- nothing gourmet. I'll do spaghetti and meatballs, pasta, lasagna, filet mignon. We'll grill out. We cook a lot in the off-season."

    On living 10 minutes from Jim Leyland in Pittsburgh: "We went to dinner one time -- a nice steak dinner. He paid. I told him, 'We have to go to dinner more often.' "
    A flute with no holes is not a flute. A doughnut with no holes is a danish. -- Zen Philosopher Basho

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    Re: Casey at the Chat

    That was a very nice article about a very nice person.

    I liked Casey in Cincy but I think he only had one really good season there...something like 20 HR and 90 or 99 RBI.

    He hit into quite a few DP's because of his lack of speed and he also had limited range at first. If he can hit .300 and be that slow, imagine what his average would be if he had a little speed.

    Would I want him back? Nope but I thank him for what he did while he was here.

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    Re: Casey at the Chat

    It was nice having a guy like Casey on the Reds. And it was a great article too..thanks for posting.

    And I agree, I don't see much of a role for him here at the present either.
    L.A. manager Grady Little had a bad feeling about Wednesday's game when he saw Harang and pitching coach Dick Pole walking in after Harang's warmup.

    "I saw two big men," Little said. "Either could have shut us out tonight."


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