THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

In terms of popularity, Casey runs unopposed

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Gordon Edes
Globe Staff / March 13, 2008

FORT MYERS, Fla. - For any team of collegians he was going to manage in the Cape Cod League, Bill Mosiello said, he was going to pick his own players. So he wasn't happy when the Brewster Whitecaps told him fine, but there was a kid from the University of Richmond, a first baseman, that they'd already committed to having on the team.

He liked it even less when the kid showed up and never seemed to stop talking. "He talked to everybody," Mosiello said. "I'm one of those old-school guys, and he'd be talking to guys on the other team, kind of bothered me a little. But off the field, he talked to everybody, too.

"So finally, I said to him, 'What are you doing, trying to get votes? Who are you, the mayor?' "

It might have been Mosiello who ran with it. Or maybe it was his assistant, Mike Kirby. Either way, the nickname stuck. Sean Casey, the extroverted communications major, was now "The Mayor." Turns out he was something else, too.

"They forced me to take him," said Mosiello, now an assistant coach at Auburn, "and he turned out to be the best player I ever had on the Cape."

That was 1994. Fourteen years later, the last 10 spent in the big leagues, Casey comes to the Red Sox still reigning as Mayor, the guy who easily won a Sports Illustrated poll of players asking them to name the nicest guy in baseball.

"So real, so sincere, the greatest kid ever, absolutely genuine," Mosiello said the other day by telephone. "I still stay in touch with him, he's got a special place in my heart.

"Tough for him to get back to me, though. The guy has about five million friends. I tell people, 'He treats me great.' Well, he's great to everybody."

Joan Casey, Sean's mother, came to Boston long before her son. "I was a student at Katharine Gibbs," she said on the January day the news broke her son had signed with the Sox, referring to the famed secretarial school.

"I lived on the Fenway in a boarding house," she said, "and used to see the Red Sox play. My favorite player was Bill Monbouquette. Who'd ever thought that I'd have a son who would play for the Red Sox?"

Local connections

Life doesn't always come full circle, but long before the Sox signed Casey to back up Kevin Youkilis at first base, he'd developed strong ties to the area. He took time off from his day job in Brewster, stocking the frozen-food section at the local Stop & Shop, to visit Fenway. One of his close friends on the team was a kid from Concord-Carlisle High School, Jamie Cappetta, who introduced him to a young priest from his Concord parish, Paul O'Brien, with whom Casey struck an instant kinship. One, because Father Paul had the sharp sense of humor you'd expect from somebody who was once Conan O'Brien's housemate at Harvard, and two, because he was willing to listen for hours as Casey peppered him with questions about life, and what role his faith played in it.

Father Paul didn't know much about baseball, but when Casey was trying to figure out which agent he should hire, the priest said he'd run it by another member of his parish, Dan Duquette, then the Sox' general manager.

Duquette recommended Ron Shapiro and a couple of others, and soon Shapiro was getting a letter from Jim Casey, Sean's father. When Casey, who'd flown under the radar at Richmond, exploded with a big summer at Brewster, Shapiro soon had another client, one who was drafted by the Indians in the second round in 1995.

Two years later, at the age of 23, Casey was in the big leagues with the Indians, collecting his first hit with a bat he'd borrowed from Manny Ramírez. "I always looked up to Manny as a young player," Casey said. "Manny was young, too, but he just got there quicker than everybody else."

The Indians, desperate for pitching, traded Casey to the Reds for Dave Burba just before the start of the '98 season. A year later, in his first full season in the big leagues, Casey found himself back at Fenway, this time as a member of the National League All-Star team, for the game in which Major League Baseball also unveiled its All-Century team.

"I was so wide-eyed," said Casey, who recalls videotaping that year's epic Home Run Derby starring Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey Jr., and Sammy Sosa while standing about 10 feet from home plate. "When the All-Century team was introduced, I don't know if I've ever had the same feeling. It was a different feeling from playing in the World Series. Then, when Ted Williams came out, I was totally going numb, chills like you wouldn't believe, the place was going bananas when we went on the mound to see him throw out the first pitch.

"Then one of the coolest things happened. I'm going in to meet Ted Williams and I get a pat on my shoulder. It was George Brett. Now, I'm a fan of the game. I go, 'Oh my God.'

"He says, 'Hey, Sean, how you doing, I wanted to meet you.' George Brett. He knows my name. I go, 'Whooo, I know who you are.' It was like, 3,000 hits just hit my shoulder. Ted Williams. George Brett saying hi. Fenway Park. It was all so surreal."

There was no escaping the tragic reality of his next visit to Fenway, which came six years later, in 2005, when the Reds came to play the Sox for the first time in interleague play. It was supposed to have been a happy occasion. Casey planned to go to Lawrence with Father Paul to serve meals at Cor Unum, the culmination of Father Paul's dream to build a facility to feed the hungry, one that Casey and Conan O'Brien, among others, had given a major financial boost. And after that first game in Boston, Casey intended to go to dinner with his uncle John, who had driven up from New York to see him.

But while Casey waited outside the clubhouse, there was no Uncle John. He checked his cellphone and realized his wife, Mandi, had tried to call him numerous times. He called her back. "Are you sitting down?" she said. "Emma committed suicide."

Emma was Casey's youngest cousin, a 15-year-old who that day had sat down in the path of an oncoming subway train, her back turned to the onrushing lights. Uncle John, Emma's father, had received that news in a call from his son on his way into the ballpark.

"That was one of the toughest nights of my life," Casey said. "One of my worst moments ever, and it was at Fenway Park. The next day I told [manager Dave] Miley that I didn't think I could play in the field because my mind was a wreck. I DH'd; that game was like a fog. Everybody loved Emma. She'd just come down to visit us that spring in our house in Jupiter [Fla.]."

Casey's uncle came to see him in Sox camp a couple of weeks ago. He hoped it would be therapeutic, he said, to come see Casey play for the Sox.

Role reversal

How much Casey will play is yet to be determined. He hit a franchise-record .529 for the Tigers in the 2006 World Series, but a year later, with Detroit electing to move shortstop Carlos Guillen to first base and acquire Edgar Renteria to play short, he became expendable. Despite his .301 career batting average, Casey's slugging percentage has dipped below .400 the last two seasons, at a position where more production is expected.

This is the first time since he broke into the big leagues that he has come to camp knowing he won't be starting. When you're just 33, that can be jarring, even for The Mayor.

"I still feel like I'm one of the best hitters in the game, so it's definitely different," Casey said, "and sometimes it's humbling. You want to have that starting position. But to be on a team like this in some capacity, that's pretty cool, too.

"One thing I've learned over the years is that crazy things happen in this game, so you never know. The more guns you have available, the better off you are in the long run. If I'm that other weapon, and God forbid something happens to somebody else and I'm able to fill that role, that's a good thing, too.

"Maybe I get some big at-bats and a start here and there. That's how I'm trying to look at it, to be a part of this team. I really do feel that way. I'm not trying to take Youkilis's job. He's one of the better young players in the game, he won a Gold Glove, he deserves what's coming to him."

Bill Mosiello has an idea what's coming for Sean Casey this summer, his first in the home uniform at Fenway.

"The fans are going to fall in love with him," Mosiello said. "He gets all the fanfare for being The Mayor, but he's a great player, and a great competitor, too. He's going to be embraced."

Gordon Edes can be reached at edes@globe.com.

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