Batting practice is baseball's daily version of a Shriners'
convention, and Sean Casey knows how to work the room. Unlike
most other players, who navigate gingerly through the swamp of
coaches, reporters and hangers-on around the cage, Casey, the
Reds' glad-handing first baseman, wades right in. A pat on the
back for an out-of-town writer. A handshake for a member of the
Cinergy Field grounds crew. A wave to an opposing coach. The
6'4", 220-pound Casey looks them all in the eye, smiles and
calls them all by name. "Everyone he ever meets, he remembers
the guy's name," says Cincinnati shortstop Barry Larkin. "He's
one of the most sincere guys I've ever met." Says Reds general
manager Jim Bowden, "If Sean ran for mayor, he'd win."
The only people Casey hasn't killed with kindness are opposing
pitchers. Through Sunday Casey, 24, was leading the National
League with a .429 average, was fourth in slugging percentage
(.683) and third in hits (27). He also led the league in
affability. "I know I like it when someone says, 'Hey, Case, how
you doing?'" he says. "So when I walk by someone, I try to say
A second-round draft pick of the Indians in 1995, Casey was
Cleveland's top-rated prospect when he was bundled off to
Cincinnati for righthander Dave Burba less than 24 hours before
Opening Day 1998. At the press conference announcing the trade,
Bowden compared Casey (who had had all of 10 major league at
bats) to Tony Gwynn and Robin Ventura. Bowden also proclaimed
that the lefthanded Casey, who led the NCAA in batting as a
junior at Richmond in '95, would win more than one hitting title.
At the time Bowden's spiel sounded like oversell by a general
manager who had just traded his Opening Day starter. It sounded
even more preposterous three days later after Casey was hit in
the face by a throw during BP. He suffered a fracture of the
right orbital bone, an injury that left him with 20 stitches,
impaired vision and five stabilizing screws in his face. "For
two days I couldn't see anything out of that eye," he says.
"Baseball was the last thing on my mind."
The stabilizing surgery improved Casey's eyesight, and after
only three rehab games with Triple A Indianapolis he was handed
the Reds' first base job last May. He promptly went 5 for 37 and
was back in the minors after 16 games. "I came back too fast,"
he says. "That wasn't me as a hitter." When he returned to
Cincinnati last June, Casey showed what he could do. He hit .300
with seven homers after the All-Star break, a performance
impressive enough that Bowden dealt first base prospect Paul
Konerko to the White Sox last November. "He's a great hitter who
hits anything," Reds manager Jack McKeon says of Casey. "Not too
many guys can make adjustments from pitch to pitch the way he
Nor can many light up a clubhouse the way Casey does. When he's
not pressing the flesh, he keeps the Reds in stitches with tales
from his childhood. There's the one about his eighth-grade
campaign for class president: "I ran against the most popular
girl in school, and I was the fat kid," he says. "I passed out
Tootsie Rolls to everyone. Actually they were Tootsie Roll
wrappers, since I ate them all on the way to school. But I did
Sounds like pretty good training for a mayoral race.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER