Upper St. Clair's Casey eyes a Miracle (Field)
Upper St. Clair native Sean Casey sat inside a South Hills coffee shop one morning last week, hands flailing as he talked, his body rocking back and forth in his chair.
He refused to sit still.
This message was important to him -- as important as anything he had done as a major league first baseman.
"To whom much is given, much is expected," said Casey as he was interviewed, his voice rising above the tone of the rest of the cafe. "Listen, I've figured out something that makes me feel good, and that's helping people out. It's easy to do a favor for someone who can help you out, but it feels a whole lot more impactful to help someone with something that really makes a difference for them.
"That's what this thing is all about, man."
"This thing" is no small undertaking; it is Casey's latest philanthropic endeavor. Casey, 36 and retired since 2008, is commanding an effort to attempt to raise $1 million for a Miracle League baseball field that will be built in Boyce Mayview Park in Upper St. Clair. Miracle League fields are made of rubberized surfaces, have shortened dimensions, are handicapped-accessible and used for games where the participants are children with varying degrees of special needs and disabilities and are accompanied by a volunteer, or "buddy."
The land already has been secured at the park, and Casey gave an initial gift of $50,000 to offset the plans, which include a playground, dugouts, bleachers and scoreboard.
So far, Casey has raised nearly half his goal for the project.
"And I'm not stopping until it is done," said Casey, who with his wife, Mandi, have four children age 9 or younger. "Sometimes, you need to stop and think just how much we take for granted. How the simplest things for some people can be so difficult for other people. Just think about that."
Dave Hall, originally from Mt. Lebanon and now an Upper St. Clair resident, doesn't need to imagine it, he lives it.
Hall is the father of three children -- two daughters, 10 and 7, and a son, Buddy, who turns 9 in a few weeks and was born with Down syndrome.
"If you've ever come in contact with Buddy, you are a better person for it, that is true across the board," said Hall, who is assisting Casey in the fundraising efforts. They hope the field can be built and ready for games by autumn. "Buddy has already been doing Miracle League, but the logistics of it can be tough sometime."
For South Hills families, the nearest Miracle League field is in Cranberry, one that former Pirates player Freddy Sanchez donated money to help build.
"Not having a Miracle League field in our nuclear area, we manage the best we can, but it is difficult," Hall said. "Buddy's sisters have their own sports schedules, and they don't get to see him play all the time. The truth is that there are a significant number of kids who could benefit from this."
Casey's impetus comes from those children, and a few more places.
He has a sister-in-law, Genny, with special needs. Casey, who played for the Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, Pirates, Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox in his career, previously worked with Miracle League organizations in Detroit and Cincinnati. In August, Casey made a three-day trip to earthquake-devastated Haiti with Penguins Max Talbot and Mike Rupp and Pirates and Penguins chaplain Brad Henderson.
Casey's latest endeavor, though, might sound like a steep proposition, but it falls in line with his reputation as one of the most selfless gentlemen to play in the major leagues.
"If you want to do something, don't sit around and wait for it," Casey said. "Believe in it and then go out and work harder than you think you ever could and go get it."
He points to his own path from a solid high school player at Upper St. Clair High School to a 12-year major leaguer (who played in the All-Star Game three times) as a perfect microcosm for this project.
"I was a kid who was too slow, couldn't run. That's what I heard from the colleges. None of the Division I schools wanted me, and I was set to go to John Carroll, a Division III school," said Casey, who ended up starring at Richmond and becoming a second-round selection of the Indians. "I sat down and wrote 30 letters to coaches of places that I had an interest in. One day, I had the game of my life in high school, went 4 for 4 with eight RBIs against Montour, and it just happened one of the Richmond coaches was there. I didn't know it until after the game.
"What I learned was that all you can do is work as hard as you can, that's the part you can control. And that's what I am doing with this Miracle League project, giving it every single bit of energy I can."
First Published February 18, 2011 12:00 am