Newest Tiger begins career in home state.
By JOE PEREZ
The Bulletin
Posted Jul 03, 2011 @ 11:05 PM




Tigers catcher Curt Casali, center, tags out Lowell’s Seth Schwindenhammer in the second inning Sunday at Dodd Stadium in Norwich. Connecticut won, 3-2.


NORWICH — Lou Casali sat in the stands at Dodd Stadium on Sunday and the realization that his son’s life-long dream was coming true still hadn’t sunk in. Alongside his brother, his youngest of three sons and a family friend, Casali couldn’t have been prouder of his eldest son, Curt, who made his professional debut with the Connecticut Tigers on Sunday.

Making the occasion sweeter for the Casali family is they won’t have to go very far from their New Canaan home to watch Curt play.

“It’s real exciting,” Lou Casali said. “He worked his whole life to get to this point and he got a lot of support along the way... this is what he dreamed about. To have the opportunity to see him, and the fact that he’s in Norwich versus somewhere else, it’s kind of neat.”

Curt Casali was a 10th-round draft pick in June’s draft by the Detroit Tigers. Since being selected, the catcher led Vanderbilt University to its first College World Series appearance.

He said his being assigned to Connecticut has been surreal, but he’s grateful to be close to home.

“I always thought I would be shipped off to somewhere I’ve never been to before, some small town,” Curt said. “It’s nice to say my parents can watch me play.”

He was invaluable to the Commodores, hitting better than .300 in each of his four seasons and was one of a handful of catchers to call his own pitches.

Making the effort
In between innings, he could be seen at a blackboard going over pitch sequences and making notes of what he called and what happened. Curt Casali hopes that his comfort with taking charge of a pitching staff and attention to detail will translate into a leadership role with the Tigers.

Tigers manager Andrew Graham, a former catcher, naturally gravitates toward Casali and the team’s two other signal callers.

“It’s always good, it’s my specialty position,” Graham said. “I can relate to him and I can help him out. I told him, any questions or concerns, I’m here to help him.”

A three-sport star at New Canaan High School, Curt Casali was a three-time All-State pick in baseball and once in football, leading the Rams to a state title as a senior. He also played basketball. The athleticism needed to excel at all three have helped Curt Casali become a better player.

Coming out of high school, Curt Casali told major league teams to not bother drafting him — he was heading to college.

Tough as nails
Curt Casali comes to the Tigers with a reputation as a gamer. After needing Tommy John Surgery in 2009, Curt Casali stayed in the lineup, playing first base and designated hitter for two seasons before returning to catching. That first year, he beat out fellow Detroit draftee Aaron Westlake for the starting nod at first. Curt Casali never played first base before.

“My coach (Tim Corbin), he was trying to explain to me that I was valuable to the team,” Curt Casali said. “He wanted my bat in there regardless. It’s hard. You do a whole fall, you’ve been with the guys a whole year and let them down like that and say, ‘He could play, but he’d be in a lot of pain probably.’ I just didn’t want to let anybody down.”

He said it’s how you handle life’s curveballs, more than the ones his teammates throw him that matters. Curt Casali’s father couldn’t agree more.

“The injuries and the decisions he made based on the injuries are indicative of the kind of kid he is,” Lou Casali said. “If he was playing for himself, he would have had surgery as a sophomore, but he was playing for his team.”

It might be hard to imagine nervousness being part of the day for a guy who played in front of 26,000 screaming fans in Omaha, Neb., last month.

“It was little nerve-wracking the first couple of innings — I struggled,” said Curt Casali, who doubled in his final at-bat. “ I don’t know all these pitchers and they don’t know me. It’s just a communication thing we’ll get better at. It was nice to get the first hit out of the way.”

Newest Tiger begins career in home state - Norwich, CT - The Bulletin