It was a new league, new teammates and a new city but when Curt Casali came out of the dugout for his first major league game at Target Field in Minnesota last month, he saw a very familiar face.
Standing near the field was Casali's coach from New Canaan High School, Mark "2-5-0" Rearick, who unbeknownst to Casali, flew into the Twin Cities to witness history first hand.
Casali was the first player from New Canaan to play in a major league game and being a long-time New Canaan baseball institution, Rearick was not going to miss it.
"It was really nice of him to come see me in Minnesota play in my first game," Casali said from the clubhouse in Oakland where the Rays were set to play Wednesday afternoon. "I had no idea he would be there. We spoke on the phone after I got called up and when I walked out on the field in Minnesota the next day, sure enough, he was there. My family was there, I had a great weekend with so much support."
Casali was a part of the 2006 New Canaan team coached by Rearick which won the FCIAC Championship.
Casali, 25, was promoted to the Tampa Bay Rays immediately after the All-Star break when catcher Ryan Hanigan went on the Disabled List, starting in his first game up against the Twins.
He singled in his first at bat, beginning a whirlwind introduction to the big leagues.
Casali said he has adjusted to the routine a bit, but life at the top level of the sport is still moving pretty quickly, especially when it comes to facing pitchers he has never seen who throw pitches that are just a little faster and break just a little more.
"It is still a whirlwind trying to get adjusted to the majors but the guys on the team have been great," Casali said. "Hitting is the biggest adjustment. Defensively I got to know a lot of our pitchers in spring training. I caught all of them but it is hard to adjust to hitting because it's not easy going over scouting reports on pitchers you have never seen."
He said the defensive part of the game is a little easier, but handling pitchers whose fastballs are a little faster and have a little more bite when they break is a challenge, but one he is certainly up for.
After Casali's first game, pitcher Alex Cobb, who Casali caught that night, had high praise for the rookie.
"Curt was unbelievable," Cobb told the Tampa Bay Times. "His job behind the plate, working with me before the game, it was almost like cramming for an exam, trying to get to know me as quick as possible, and it was fantastic. You could tell as the course of the game went on, we were just having this chemistry where he was knowing what pitches I wanted to throw beforehand. The job he does framing pitches and really getting that low strike is tremendous."
After being up for a couple weeks, Casali was introduced to the business side of the league when former Vanderbilt teammate David Price was sent to Detroit in exchange for Drew Smyly of the Tigers and Nick Franklin of the Mariners in a three-team deal.
Casali said losing Price's arm is big, but the team will miss him in the clubhouse even more. Read Full Article
"It is unfortunate to trade David and I understand the business side of things, but it is hard to lose a guy like that," Casali said. "Most people don't see how much of a leader he is in the clubhouse and guys like that are hard to come by. We are hoping someone will step up and fill his shoes in the clubhouse."
Fellow Connecticut major leaguer Matt Harvey of the Mets recently told Hearst Connecticut Media he thought players from the Northeast are succeeding at the major league level because they were forced to work harder with less time playing outside.
Casali echoed Harvey's sentiment, saying the work ethic forged in the Northeast is directly responsible for him making it to the majors.
"I completely agree with Matt, guys have it easier in warm climates like Florida and Texas," Casali said. "Being from the Northeast instills a work ethic in you. I had to hit Wiffle balls in a small room in my basement all winter when I was a kid.
"It was definitely a challenge. Matt is right. People can say what they want but we have a different way of looking at things because we have a hard-nosed Northeast mentality. People don't know what it's like to play games in snow flurries in the early spring, they don't know about playing in those conditions."
Casali said he hopes future players from the Connecticut use him as an example that you can make it to the top even if you come from Northeast.
He also said a video made by NewCanaanite.com and sent to him filled with townspeople wishing him well was a welcome treat.
"New Canaan baseball has come a long way. I tried to be a pioneer getting New Canaan baseball to be like that of Stamford which has such a great baseball tradition," Casali said. "It has been great to have the support of the New Canaan community and to see that video was really nice."
Member of 2006 FCIAC Championship team at New Canaan
Played at Vanderbilt University
Drafted by Detroit Tigers in 10th round of 2011 MLB Amateur Draft
Traded to Tampa Bay in 2013
Played for AA Montgomery and AAA Durham in 2014
Made major league debut for Rays July 18 in Minnesota