Photos and story by Gordy Jones
Casey on the Mound!
Casey Fien’s pitching talent has been one of the few bright spots in the 2013 Twins season. I knew little about him, so as we began talking, I asked him to tell me about his background. He began: “I hail from Buena Park, California; a small, little town – we’ve got an amusement park there, though. It’s called Knotts Berry Farm. My dad was a basketball coach, so growing up I was a big-time basketball player. I love the game of basketball, but I was really good in baseball. I’m glad I took the route of baseball. I’ve been a pitcher since I played minor-B. That’s where you actually get to throw off the mound instead of hitting off of a tee or having the coach pitch to you. Ever since then, my dad always got me on the mound. I always tried to be like Nolan Ryan. My dad read all of the Nolan Ryan books on how to pitch. He influenced me with that…that’s how I was taught to throw. Dad’s been to Target Field, and he was at Yankee Stadium when we played there. That was surreal to both of us – that’s the cathedral of baseball. That was a father-and-son moment that we will never forget.”
I asked him if he was a good hitter as a youth. He laughed and said, “I fared pretty well. But I remember Joe Mauer. Didn’t he bat something like .500 in high school? I batted just over .200. My main spot was on the mound.”
He talks about his favorite baseball city: Anaheim, where he grew up watching the Angels. “I was at the 2002 World Series, game seven! Just being part of that was awesome,” he said proudly.
When not playing ball, he loves playing video games and especially to cook. “I like to cook breakfast. My wife, Joanne, loves it because she really doesn’t like to cook that much. When I cook, it’s usually pretty good; I’ll burn something once in a while, but that’s just test tries.”
I was curious how long he has thrown with such velocity. He said, “My senior year of college, everything started to click. The weight training that I did in college began to benefit me. I filled into my body. Once that happened, everything started to click.”
Being a relief pitcher in a tense game can be stressful, but Casey never looks worried. “I keep a calm mind,” he said. “You’re out there to do a job, and you’ve done it your whole life…every game. You go from Triple A to the majors and the mound is still the same, and the game is still the same. Everything is the same, just a little faster. You have to be able to slow it down, take a deep breath, and understand the situation that you’re in, and then throw a strike.”
I asked him what advice he could give to young ballplayers. He said, “Work ethic! Hard work trumps all. I grew up with guys who were way better than me, or had more talent in throwing the baseball, or had a better off-speed pitch than I did. You work hard and find out what you need to do to get better, and keep striving at that, and soon you’ll see yourself become a better baseball player.”
On July 20, the fans at Target Field celebrated Tony Oliva’s 75th birthday. Tony was honored during a ceremony at home plate, and then surprised as the entire ballpark sang Happy Birthday to him. He looked even happier than usual, and much younger than his age.
Meanwhile, outside Target Field, his neighbor and friend, Dan Murphy, rallied in a booth near Gate 29 (Carew’s number, not Oliva’s) to raise awareness of Tony’s Hall-of-Fame-caliber career, and recruit
fans to sign a petition which will be sent to those who can make this a reality: the members of the Golden Era Committee who vote for their peers.
Dan Murphy explained how this movement emerged: “We are dedicated to get Tony Oliva into the Hall of Fame. We felt really sad for the Ron Santo family when Ron didn’t get in until he was deceased. His stats didn’t change; the man didn’t change; they just waited until he was no longer with us until they put him in. Our goal is to make sure this doesn’t happen to Tony. We’ve been working real hard. We have a grassroots organization, and a letter-writing campaign to the Golden Era voters. The next vote is in December of 2014. We don’t know who the people in the Golden Era will be then. Once we find out, that’s when we really start to work. But for now, we are just getting people to sign up as part of Vote Tony-O, and we’ll keep everyone informed and have them help us in our letter-writing campaign in 2014.”
Fans who are interested in influencing the voters by reminding them what a great ballplayer Tony Oliva was, and what a great man he still is — a perfect ambassador for baseball — can like “Vote Tony O” on Facebook, or sign in at www.votetonyo.com .