A pivotal point in the life of Sean Casey, ’95, came at age 13, when he and a friend were caught shoplifting baseball cards. His father handed him a dictionary and ordered him to look up “greed,” “selfish,” and “thief.”
Casey still recalls the lecture: “It’s because of people like you—who steal—that people don’t have jobs. Taxes go up. Companies go out of business. … Your actions affect so many other people.”
The experience changed Casey. He began to realize that one person’s actions really could make a difference. Resolved to do better, he grew up to become widely known as the nicest guy in baseball. The veteran first-baseman is an outstanding role model. He gives generous amounts of time and money to people in need. He even bear-hugs sportswriters.
“I think the world of the guy,” says Hal McCoy, a sportswriter for the Dayton Daily News who covered Casey during his days with the Cincinnati Reds. Even after Casey was traded to Pittsburgh and then to Detroit, he would seek out McCoy whenever he was in town with one of his new teams. He always gave McCoy a big hug.
“I have never heard him say a bad word about anybody,” says McCoy. “The world is his friend.”
McCoy has written that Casey is “the nicest guy in baseball—ever.” His assessment comes from firsthand experience, but it has become the consensus throughout the game. Other sportswriters and sportscasters concur, and his fellow players share the sentiment. In May 2007, he was voted the “friendliest player in baseball” by a wide margin in a Sports Illustrated poll of 464 players. He received 46 percent of the votes. The first runner-up got 7 percent.
Casey also is known as “the mayor” because of his chattiness at first base when runners stop there. What does he talk about? “I have so many different conversations about so many different things, it’s just unbelievable,” Casey says. “How’s the family? How are you swinging?”
When the Detroit Tigers chose not to re-sign Casey after the 2007 season, he responded by publicly thanking the club for bringing him to Detroit and giving him the
opportunity to play in the 2006 World Series.
Casey mans the kitchen at Cor Unum Meal Center sporting his “Labels Are for Jars” T-shirt.
In an era of prima donna professional athletes, Casey operates in a higher realm of decency. In Lawrence, Mass., for example, he helped create and finance Cor Unum Meal Center, a $1.5 million facility that serves 600 meals every day to impoverished people. The meal center, which opened in 2006, is the brainchild of Rev. Paul O’Brien, a longtime friend.
O’Brien and Casey met through Jamie Cappetta, ’97, a college teammate who knew O’Brien while growing up in Concord, Mass. Casey and O’Brien got to know each other better during the summer Casey played in the Cape Cod League for college players.
“We keep very up-to-date,” O’Brien says. “So he knew from the time I started in Lawrence that, among all of the social issues we’ve got here, hunger was an obvious one.”
When O’Brien proposed a meal center, Casey wrote one of the first checks. Much of the rest of the money came from Labels Are for Jars, a project that combines the sale of thought-provoking T-shirts packaged in jars later used to collect donations to feed the hungry. Casey is active in that organization, too.
Last season, during a Tigers road trip to Boston, Casey spent a morning at the meal center serving breakfast and greeting diners.
“It is so cool,” Casey says. “It’s literally like a nice restaurant. People who don’t have food can go there and feel at home and be served.”
Enthusiasm and generosity seem to come naturally to Casey. He credits his Christian faith and the idea that when much is given, much is expected.“When you give back to people,” he says, “that’s when your heart really grows.”
Casey was a good baseball player in high school, but by his senior year, his hopes of playing big-time college baseball were fading.
He wrote letters to 30 Division I coaches, asking for a chance. Only Richmond responded. Mark McQueen, now Richmond’s head baseball coach, drove six hours to Pittsburgh to scout Casey, who responded with four doubles and eight RBI.
As good as Casey’s hitting was, meeting him after the game was even better, McQueen recalls. “He was genuinely grateful for the effort we had made to come watch him.”
Casey came to Richmond on a $1,000 scholarship. He hit .405 during his college career, driving in 158 runs in 158 games. In 1995, he led the Spiders to the NCAA East Regional and the program’s first win in the NCAA tournament. He earned second team all-American honors that year and won the NCAA batting title with an average of .461.
“Getting Sean to come to Richmond was one of the best things that ever happened for our baseball program and our University,” McQueen says. “He’s truly a special person.”
The admiration is mutual. “Looking back, Richmond was such a steppingstone for me, not just for my career but for my life,” Casey says. He majored in speech communications, which has come in handy during media interviews and speaking engagements.
Casey was three semesters shy of graduating when the Cleveland Indians selected him in the second round of the Major League Baseball draft. To complete his degree requirements, he returned to UR during three different off-seasons, including the spring following his first season in the big leagues. He graduated in 1998.
“I owe a lot to the University of Richmond,” he says. “I don’t ever take for granted how privileged and honored I was to have graduated from there.”
Casey has lived his dream of playing major league baseball. He is a career .300 hitter. He has played in three all-star games and one World Series (batting above .500 and hitting two home runs in Detroit’s loss to St. Louis). And in 1999, he won the Hutch Award for honor, courage, and dedication to baseball.
After 11 seasons, he knows he is nearing the end of his career. He figures he has another year, maybe two. He recently signed a one-year contract with the Boston Red Sox.
“I still love the game. I just don’t love the travel,” he admits.
Casey and his wife, Mandi, have three young children. He wants to coach his kids when they start playing sports and generally be home as they grow up.
After he is done playing, he says he might try to stay in baseball as an instructor or a broadcaster. He has even considered venturing into politics. Would ‘the mayor’ really run for public office?
“Maybe,” he says, but “I wouldn’t count on it.”
Either way, his friend the priest, Paul O’Brien, has a hunch about his old buddy: “Sean’s commitment to young people is real … as is his commitment to the economically poor. People should stay tuned. Sean Casey may turn out to be a much more interesting person once he retires from baseball.”
Bill Lohmann, R’79, is a writer and columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Send comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.