Commodores' catcher back to health, back behind the plate -- at last

Friday, October 22, 2010 at 12:06am

Curt Casali’s summer consisted of what he has dealt with throughout most of his collegiate career – injury.

His fall, however, began where he would have liked to have spent most of his collegiate career – behind home plate, as a catcher.

That is where he was positioned Thursday night as the Vanderbilt senior and the rest of his teammates kicked off the Black and Gold Series at Hawkins Field. The Gold picked up a 6-1 victory in the opener of the three-game series, which continues at 6 p.m. Friday and concludes at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

After shaking off a finger injury this summer that limited his time in the Cape Cod League to a month, Casali started at catcher during last weekend’s two-game series against the Texas Longhorns in Austin. On Thursday, in the intra-squad scrimmage, he was just 1-for-3 with an infield single and a run scored.

It wasn’t the sort of performance that leaps out of the box score but Casali was all smiles afterwards, grateful to be back in a position that has eluded him the past two years.

“I can’t even tell you how happy I am to get behind home plate,” Casali said. “I’ve had a rough four years. But it is really refreshing to get behind the plate and get to my original position and why I was brought here in the first place.”

After Casali, a native of New Canaan, Conn., served as a backup his freshman year, he endured an up-and-down sophomore campaign in 2009. He injured his elbow on his throwing arm that year – which later required surgery – but still started every game, playing at first base or serving as the designated hitter. The injury didn’t cool off his hitting as he led the team in RBIs (59) and tied for the most home runs (10).

Last year, as a junior, he missed 13 games due to a hamstring injury and then-senior Andrew Giobbi spent most of the season at the catcher spot. Still, mainly in the designated hitter role, Casali hit .309 with eight home runs and 42 RBIs in 52 games.

Now, saying he feels as healthy as he has ever been during his career at Vanderbilt, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Casali hopes to finally ease in behind the plate. He looked the part Thursday as he gunned down a speedy Tony Kemp in the fourth inning.

“You can tell there is a difference when he is behind the plate," coach Tim Corbin said. "He is a good target. He has a good presence about him and he continues to throw better. He is just a good all-around baseball player.

“To have him behind the plate and have his leadership is very telling. You can see it.”

Junior pitcher Sonny Gray already has noticed an enthusiasm among his battery mate this fall. Gray, who struck out 10 Thursday and topped out at 96 miles per hour, understands how much of an impact Casali can have on the team, especially the pitching staff.

“I have really, really enjoyed throwing to him,” Gray said. “He does a great job of calling the game. He does a great job of blocking it, he throws very well. He is going to be a really big part of our team behind the plate and he is going to have to be someone who just makes this pitching staff even better than it already is.”

Calling the injury he sustained this summer “the story of my life,” Casali hopes to finally put all the injury woes behind him and start a new chapter. One that starts with him behind the plate.

“I feel really good,” he said. “I feel as healthy and confident as I have in a long time and hopefully that will carry over into the season.”