When Tim Corbin refers to Curt Casali as “a grandfather type,” it is because the 20-year-old sophomore has a kind, reassuring nature.
It has nothing to do with joint pain, although Casali has plenty of that too — in one particular joint, at least.
His right elbow is injured — and has been for months — which creates some degree of daily discomfort. It never is enough to keep him out of Vanderbilt’s lineup, although it has forced him to change positions and makes it a certainty that he will have surgery following the season.
“It hurt a lot more in the beginning of the season, but I think as the days go by it heals a little on its own,” Casali said. “So far, no complaints. I get through it every day. No big deal.”
Casali, a sophomore, was expected to be the Commodores’ catcher this season, but on Feb. 1, the first day of formal spring workouts, he threw down to second base and immediately knew something was wrong.
Medical tests revealed a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament, a situation that requires so-called “Tommy John surgery.” The procedure reconstructs the ligament using one from the forearm and comes with a rehabilitation period of close to a year.
Following consultations with doctors and family members, the 20-year-old decided he wanted to delay surgery until after the season.
“I think when it came right down to it, he just made the decision, ‘This is what I’m going to do for my team,’” Corbin, Vanderbilt’s coach, said. “He’s taken a backseat with his own personal views, and from a team standpoint he’s saying, ‘This is what the team needs: They need for me to play; they don’t need me to be out; and they don’t need for me to be thinking about my career.’
“I don’t know a lot of kids who would think that way, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for he and his family for doing that. I know the kids do as well.”
Casali is one of four Commodores who have played in all 52 games this season. He leads the team in RBIs with 50, is second in home runs (eight), tied for second in total bases (104) and is third in batting average (.345), on-base percentage (.445) and slugging percentage (.536).
Because he is unable to throw the ball back to the pitcher 120 times or so a game, not to mention it is impossible for him to try and throw out base stealers, he has spent most of the season playing first base with an occasional turn at designated hitter.
“I have to hand it to the people who have been on base because you don’t get a lot of RBIs unless there’s people on base,” he said. “I haven’t hit a lot of home runs. That really hasn’t been a big thing for me.
“There were a lot of options that I weighed. I mean, in the end it was in my best interests to play and it was in the team’s best interests to play too. I could have easily gotten the surgery as soon as I tore it but I chose not to.”
His contributions have a lot to do with the fact that Vanderbilt (31-21, 12-14 in the SEC) is in position to secure the final spot in the SEC tournament next week at Hoover, Ala.
With one weekend remaining in the regular season, seven of the eight berths in the field have been secured. The Commodores, who host Tennessee in a three-game series beginning Thursday are a game and a half up on Kentucky for the final spot.
It’s not just what Casali offers on the field either. His constant presence in the dugout and locker room has paid dividends as well.
“He’s a good person; everyone likes him,” Corbin said. “He’s got kind of an old soul (characteristic) about him. He’s just like a grandfather guy. That’s a joke to him when I say it, but that’s kind of the way he is. He’s just very much an old soul.
“He kind of takes everything in, and he never speaks out of turn. He’s just a good guy. He cares about everybody.”
Within a matter of days of the Commodores’ final game, whenever it is, he finally will take care of the elbow. He will have the surgery performed by Dr. James Andrews at the Alabama Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center and expects to be ready to play again at the start of next season.
“I stretch my shoulder out a lot, which kind of takes the pressure off my elbow, actually,” he said. “I ice it every once in a while. Other than that, it’s just stretching and throwing some. It’s not that big of a deal.
“Very rarely does it really, really hurt. But as the season goes on it gets more and more sore pretty much game by game… It’s not painful to the point that I can’t play.”
Vanderbilt will conclude the SEC regular season with a three-game series against the University of Tennessee at Hawkins Field. Tickets are available online at vucommodores.com or through the Vanderbilt ticket office, (615) 322-4653.