Jan. 28, 2009


Casey: Becoming ‘The Mayor’

By Sean Ryan, CBI Co-Founder


Before he became “The Mayor,” he was “Mungo,” a happy-go-lucky freshman from Pittsburgh who nearly didn’t get the chance to play Division I college baseball.


Some 16 years later, Sean Casey is hanging up his spikes. A three-time all-star, winner of the 1999 Hutch Award and landslide favorite for the friendliest player in baseball, “Case” will take his passion for baseball and love of conversation to the MLB network.


It seems appropriate. After being drafted in the second round and leaving the University of Richmond after his junior year, Sean made good on a promise to return and complete his degree in speech communications.


I was fortunate to arrive at Richmond in the fall of 1992, the same year Sean became a Spider. When people find out I was a teammate of his for three years, the first question I’m always asked is, “Is he really as nice as he seems?”


Yes, he really is.


Don’t want to take my word for it? In a 2007 Sports Illustrated poll, Sean was named the friendliest player in baseball by 46 percent of his major league peers. Jim Thome, ironically the guy who stood in Casey’s way in Cleveland and paved the way for a trade to Cincinnati, was second, with 7 percent of the vote.


At Richmond, Sean made friends like the United States Mint makes coins. The first time I met him was at an athletic department gathering for new athletes on campus. He bounded into the room with another Pittsburgh guy, Jay Adams, who would become one of his closest friends. The pair bounced from person to person, shaking hands like politicians, laughing like they had met everyone in the room 100 times before.


A couple years later, the student body named him homecoming king, an honor I’m sure embarrassed him at least a little.


On the field, he made even more friends. He honed his conversation skills at first base, talking to anyone and everyone who reached base. By the time runners got to third, they’d often turn to me and say, “Is he always like that?” or “Does he talk to everyone?” I’d always laugh and nod. What conversations I had with runners were short – most of the runners, thoroughly distracted by Sean at first, weren’t about to let it happen at third. Besides, how could you follow up Case?


Opposing players became buddies. Fierce rivals Kevin Gibbs and Matt Quatraro from Old Dominion joined us for dinner one night in the midst of a three-game conference series. I’m sure Sean invited one of those guys to join Bobby St. Pierre (who grew up with Gibbs), Mark Budzinski (Bud) and I one of the many times they visited him at first.


As a teammate, there isn’t enough space – even on the Internet – to capture the highlights he provided or stories he told. His cramps on the team vans were legendary, as were his occasional sleep-walking stories. Athletic trainer Eric Sugarman, now the head athletic trainer with the Minnesota Vikings, tricked Sean at William & Mary by putting eye black under one eye, leaving the rest of the team in stitches, especially when Sean chased “Shoogs” into the outfield.


And of course, Sean could hit. Like none other I saw in my four years. Which always made us wonder how he ended up at Richmond. He almost didn’t.


Sean was set to go to Penn State-Behrend – not even Penn State, but Penn State-Behrend as Sean used to tell me. But a funny thing happened. Assistant coach Mark McQueen, now the Spiders’ head coach, took a drive up to see Sean play in the Keystone Games on a field that didn’t have a fence. Case responded by using his sweet, left-handed stroke to pepper the ball around the yard. McQueen returned with a glowing report. Head coach Ron Atkins made him a tiny scholarship offer.


I always thought the fact that he was so overlooked made him work that much harder. He wasn’t a great first baseman when he arrived, often replaced in the late innings by his great friend Bud. Sean took that personally and came back his sophomore year with a gold glove that saved many an infielder error.


Three years after he arrived, Sean hobbled up to the plate in an NCAA elimination game against Alabama at the Clemson Regional. Case had battled a bad hamstring down the stretch in helping lead us to an at-large bid. When he stepped to the plate, many of us wondered if we might be watching his last at-bat in a Spiders uniform. Alabama had the game in control, and the Major League Draft beckoned.


Sean, whose first hit as a Spider was a double to left-center, stepped in and drilled one last ball to the gap. He rounded first and gingerly trotted into second for one last double. I remember having tears in my eyes as he came off the field for a pinch-runner – the emotion of watching him leave the field for the last time and the finality of the best year in school history (to date) was tough to contain.


What none of us knew then was that with that double, Sean passed a guy at Indiana State to become the NCAA batting champ.


Sean went on to put together a fantastic major league career. How many guys can say they batted .300 for their career or racked up more than 1,500 hits? Or named to the epic All-Star Game in Boston (pictured left, with former Spider Brian Jordan), where he was one of many awestruck players who flocked to the immortal Ted Williams? Or belted two homers in the World Series in front of hordes of close, personal friends who supported him throughout his career? Or picked up the first hit in the new ballpark in the “City of Champions” as he liked to call the town where he grew up.


What amazes me the most about Sean is that he didn’t change a bit as he made it big. He remembered your name, even if you met him for only seconds years ago. He left tickets for teammates, fraternity brothers, friends, friends of friends and people he’d met along the way. He signed more autographs than anyone this side of Bob Feller, whom he accidentally drilled in the chest with a baseball when he was a kid in the Indians’ organization and momentarily thought he had ended the life of one of Cleveland’s finest. And he devoted countless hours to charitable causes all around the country.


When Bud finally reached the Major Leagues after about 10 years in the minors, Case was the happiest guy in the world. His good friend was going to join him on the Reds, and Sean gobbled up just about every player ticket to accommodate Bud’s friends and family for a Sunday night game against the Giants at the Great American Ballpark.


That’s just the way Sean is.


And how he became The Mayor.


'The Mayor' leaves affable legacy (Chris Haft/MLB.com)


Casey officially announces retirement (Mark Sheldon/MLB.com)


Casey joins MLB Network team (Barry M. Bloom/MLB.com)


(photos courtesy of Richmond Media Relations Office)