Casey At The Bat There's joy in Redsville when Cincinnati's jovial, sweet-swinging Sean Casey (a.k.a. the Mayor) steps into the batter's box

May 13, 2001

When Sean Casey was growing up in Upper St. Clair, Pa., his
friends' visits to the Casey home were often followed by lectures
to Sean from his dad. Then a traveling salesman for a chemical
company, Jim Casey had a livelihood that depended on a lively
personality, so he took notice when one of his son's buddies
failed to greet Jim and his wife, Joan, with a hearty hello. "I
always told Sean, 'Adults are people too. Make sure you say hello
to them when you go to your friends' houses,'" Jim says. "Maybe
that stuck in his mind."

You think? Jim may be the Dr. Frankenstein of friendliness--he
created a convivial monster. If you're in a room with Sean Casey
and he hasn't said hello to you, it's because he hasn't yet made
his way to your stretch of carpet. Now 26 and the Cincinnati
Reds' first baseman, Casey, who was nicknamed the Mayor by a
coach in the Cape Cod League in 1994, could have earned a
reputation as one of the sport's most personable players with
simple politeness, a quality often lacking in major league
clubhouses. Instead he has raised affability to an art form,
glad-handing teammates, opponents, fans, clubhouse attendants,
groundskeepers, autograph seekers and everyone else he
encounters. The world is his rope line, and testaments to his
bubbly nature abound at Cinergy Field like jokes at a Friars Club
roast, only without the nasty punch lines. Reds shortstop Barry
Larkin calls him "the most sincere, honest, hardworking American
I know."

"There's nobody like him," says closer Danny Graves. "He's the
nicest guy in baseball. Sean's the Mayor in every city we go to.
We could be in Hackensack, and he'd have people coming up to him
saying hello--and he remembers everybody's name."

"I won't go out to dinner with him for that reason," says
outfielder Dmitri Young. "We'll be in a restaurant, and Sean
will be about to eat his soup, and if someone comes up for an
autograph, he'll stop and sign and talk. I'm sitting there
thinking, Sean, you are way too nice."

Opposing pitchers might disagree--they no doubt view him as an
oversized Eddie Haskell. At week's end the 6'4", 225-pound Casey
was batting .337 (11th in the National League) with five home
runs and 27 RBIs (tied for sixth in the league). Last year, in
his second full big league season, he led the league in hitting
after the All-Star break with a .372 average, and he's one of
only seven players in the majors to have batted at least .315
with 50 extra-base hits, 85 RBIs and fewer than 90 strikeouts in
each of the past two seasons. (Colorado Rockies third baseman
Jeff Cirillo, Boston Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra,
Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Brian Giles, Montreal Expos
rightfielder Vladimir Guerrero, Rockies first baseman Todd
Helton and Kansas City Royals first baseman Mike Sweeney are the
others.) "He's legit," says Larkin. "He's a professional hitter
who makes adjustments on the fly, and he rarely gives away an at
bat."

Casey is not so grudging with his time, whether he's chatting up
fans, talking to reporters or entertaining teammates with stories
from his childhood in Upper St. Clair, a suburb of Pittsburgh. On
the first day of spring training Casey parked his car at the
Reds' complex in Sarasota, Fla., and shocked Cincinnati beat
reporters by immediately heading for the pressroom to shake hands
and welcome them to camp. "In 29 years covering this team, that's
never happened," says veteran Dayton Daily News writer Hal McCoy,
who received a congratulatory call from Casey on his wedding day
in November 1999--even though he'd never mentioned to the first
baseman that he was getting married. "He said hello to us even
before he met his teammates."

On road trips Larkin, the Reds' captain, will frequently call
Casey to the front of the bus to address the team. It's hard to
tell what brings the Reds more joy, listening to Casey
stories--in which he's always the good-natured butt of the
joke--or retelling the tales themselves. There's the one about
Casey's campaign for eighth-grade class president, when he
latched onto the popularity of pro wrestling and Hulkamania
shtick by standing in front of a school assembly and, in the
middle of his speech, ripping open his button-down shirt to flex
and reveal a white T-shirt on which he had scrawled CASEY-MANIA
in black Magic Marker. Aided by that bit of showmanship, he won
the election.

Then there's the first time he played against Mark McGwire. Late
in the game the Reds walked Big Mac intentionally, which
thrilled Casey because it meant he could chat up one of his
childhood heroes. (To this day an Oakland A's Bash Brothers
poster, featuring McGwire and Jose Canseco, hangs alongside one
of Don Mattingly in Casey's boyhood bedroom, which is where he
sleeps when the Reds visit Pittsburgh.) One hitch: Since McGwire
was not a threat to steal, Jack McKeon, Cincinnati's manager at
the time, ordered Casey to play behind the bag at first. "I
pretended not to hear the bench so I could hold him on and get a
chance to talk to Mark McGwire," Casey says. "I'm standing at
the bag, trying to act cool, and I go, 'Hey, Mark, good to meet
you.' He looks at me and says, 'How you doing.' By now the
entire bench was screaming, 'Casey! Play behind the bag!' I kept
pretending not to hear, trying to start a conversation. Finally
McGwire turned to me and said, 'Uh, Sean, I think your team
wants you to play behind me.'"

The only time of the day the Mayor doesn't seem completely at
ease is when he's settling into the batter's box. The
lefthanded-hitting Casey puts himself through a set of
between-pitch contortions that resembles the Royal Canadian Air
Force fitness program. With his left foot planted in the box, he
reaches down to each shoe top to stretch his hamstrings. Then,
holding his bat under his right arm like a baguette, he wrenches
the straps on his batting glove to tourniquetlike tightness.
When he finally pulls his right foot into the box, he uses the
bat in his right hand to rub the plate while he fiddles with his
belt with his left hand, then cranks his back leg up and down,
bending it at the knee and kicking his foot several inches off
the ground. "I started the batting glove thing in high school,"
Casey says. "There'd be sweat pouring down my arms, and I had to
keep tightening the gloves to keep my hands dry. The rest is
just me trying to get comfortable."

Once he's settled, Casey is a model hitter, with quiet hands and
a still head, who belts line drives to all fields with a textbook
stroke. In 1995, as a junior at Richmond (he has a degree in,
most appropriately, speech communication), Casey won the NCAA
batting title with a .461 average. That year he signed with the
Cleveland Indians after being drafted in the second round, then
tore through the Indians' minor league system, hitting .329, .331
and .380 in his first three seasons. On the eve of the 1998
season Cleveland traded him to Cincinnati in a deal that cost the
Reds righthander Dave Burba, their scheduled Opening Day starter.
"It's hard to get a middle-of-the-lineup impact bat at a young
age," says Reds general manager Jim Bowden of the deal. "That
trade may have hurt our chances that year, but in the long run it
was good for our team."

Casey missed the first month of that season after an errant
batting-practice throw cracked the orbital bone around his right
eye three days following the trade, and he spent that season
bouncing between the majors and Triple A Indianapolis, hitting
.272 in 96 games with the Reds. He broke out the next year,
finishing fourth in the National League batting race with a .332
average and becoming the first Reds first baseman to hit 25
homers and drive in 90 runs since Tony Perez did it 25 years
earlier. Casey also made the All-Star team; he spent most of his
time in Boston, where the game was held, shooting footage for a
keepsake videotape that he still watches every couple of weeks.
"He was like a kid in a candy store in that clubhouse," says
Larkin, an All-Star as well that year.

After a terrible first half last season, any thoughts of
expanding Casey's All-Star video library were put on hold. He
broke his right thumb in the Reds' final spring training game,
spent most of April on the disabled list and struggled when he
returned to the lineup. By the end of May he was hitting .213
with only nine RBIs. "I came back from the injury too fast and
was trying too hard," he says.

After a 1-for-4 performance on June 25 dropped his average to
.242, Casey called Frank Porco, a hitting instructor in
Pennsylvania who had given him private lessons since he was 14.
The two have been close since Casey's sophomore year at Upper St.
Clair High. "When he came to me, he was kind of a pudgy, awkward
kid," says Porco. "He said to me, 'I want to be a major leaguer.'
I looked at him and thought, Hey, doesn't everybody."

Until the winter of 1999-2000 Casey had visited Porco every
off-season for weeklong tutorials. Distracted by his wedding that
November to Mandi Kanka, he missed the session that year. "I
didn't feel right all season, but I kept thinking it would come
around," Casey says. "Finally I decided I had to see Frank."

Casey flew to Pittsburgh after that Sunday-afternoon game and
went straight to the indoor baseball center in Bethel Park, Pa.,
where Porco works. The two stayed up until 2 a.m., comparing
tapes of the successful 1999 Casey and the dismal 2000 version,
and working in the cage. Porco noticed Casey was way too tense in
his stance and had developed several ugly hitches (he was
double-clutching his hands, for example) in his swing. After more
cage work the next morning Casey caught a flight back to
Cincinnati for a game that night against the St. Louis Cardinals.
He went 3 for 4, and from that point on he batted .365 with 16
home runs, 68 RBIs and a .635 slugging percentage. "I felt like
last season was the best I've ever had, just to finish where I
did after that start," says Casey, who in gratitude bought Porco
a satellite TV system. "I learned so much about myself as a
hitter."

The rest of the league has noticed. "You used to be able to pound
him inside," says Milwaukee Brewers pitching coach Bob Apodaca,
"but he's learning to get his hands inside that ball and foul it
off or drive it to leftfield. He's made himself into a much
tougher out."

This winter Casey went about shrinking and strengthening his
slightly doughy build. He hired a personal trainer for the first
time and dropped about seven pounds through a regimen of weights
and cardiovascular work. He also padded his repertoire of stories
with tales from a spinning class he took at a gym near his
off-season home in Jupiter, Fla. "It was me and a roomful of
women, and it was hard," he says. "I would sneak to a bike in the
back of the room so none of them could see me when I needed to
take a break."

It's his personality that never takes a break. Once every home
stand he and Mandi spend a day with Ben Turner, an 11-year-old
they met through the Cincinnati Big Brothers/Big Sisters program.
(Their first child is due in October.) Casey's popularity in the
community--along with his .313 career average--has made signing him
to a long-term contract a priority for Bowden, who has had
preliminary discussions about a deal with Casey's agent, Ron
Shapiro. (Casey will earn $3 million this season thanks to an
arbitration win.) Casey says he'd love to spend his career in
Cincinnati, but he's too busy enjoying the present to worry about
his future.

What will that future hold? When the Reds crossed paths with
President Bush at the opening of Milwaukee's Miller Park a few
weeks ago, Casey reported to the clubhouse armed with a pair of
disposable cameras to record the moment. Teammates heaped him
with abuse--until Bush arrived and they begged for photo ops. "He
was like the press secretary," says Larkin. "'Mr. President, can
you turn this way please?' We all lined up for pictures."

"That was so exciting," Casey says. "I've gotten to meet a lot of
people, but that's definitely the highlight of my career so far.
He even talked to me a little bit while we were posing." What did
the President tell the Mayor? "He said that I seem like a nice
guy and that I should go into politics."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRAD MANGIN COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRAD MANGIN TOUCHING BASE Solid if not spectacular at first, Casey also uses the bag as a place to chat up foes. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRAD MANGIN

The Producers

Last season Sean Casey (left) hit .367 with runners in scoring
position, which made him one of the top clutch hitters in the
National League. This season he has picked up right where he left
off; through Sunday he was 13 for 33 (.394) in such situations.
Here are the numbers for last season's leaders (minimum: 100
plate appearances) in the category and how they have fared early
in 2001. --David Sabino

RUNNERS IN SCORING POSITION, 2000 2001
AT AT
PLAYER, TEAM HITS BATS AVERAGE HITS BATS AVERAGE

Todd Helton, Rockies 60 153 .392 15 36 .417
Jeff Cirillo, Rockies 66 169 .391 5 15 .333
Mitch Meluskey, Astros* 40 107 .374 -- -- --
Sean Casey, Reds 44 120 .367 13 33 .394
Todd Hundley, Dodgers-Cubs 28 77 .364 6 26 .231
Brent Mayne, Rockies 34 95 .358 11 22 .500

*Traded to Tigers in off-season; on disabled list with a torn
ligament in right shoulder

"He's a professional hitter who rarely gives away an at bat,"
says Larkin.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)