NASHVILLE, Tenn. – When Chase Casali was eight years old, he sat at his family’s kitchen table in New Canaan, Connecticut listening to a college baseball coach’s recruiting pitch. The coach on the other side of the table was Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin.
Corbin and his wife, Maggie, had ventured to the Casali residence on a recruiting trip to visit Casali’s older brother, Curt, who was one of the country’s most coveted high school prospects. The younger Casali – an emerging baseball fan in his own right – sat quietly as he listened to Corbin, who earnestly sang the gospel of Commodore baseball.
Then, as Corbin wrapped up his spiel, Chase Casali spoke up.
“I remember telling Coach Corbin, ‘I’m going to play baseball for you one day,'” Casali said.
More than a decade later, Casali finds himself at Vanderbilt – albeit in a different capacity. Casali is in his second season as a student manager for the Commodores, the same program for which his oldest brother, Curt, went on to play his college baseball from 2008-11. Curt Casali would later be selected in the 2014 Major League Baseball draft and has played for both the Tampa Bay Rays and, currently, the Cincinnati Reds.
In a way, Chase Casali followed in his brothers’ footsteps, lending credence to the family culture instilled within the fibers of Vanderbilt baseball.
“My whole life, I spent the time watching Vanderbilt from afar,” Casali said. “I grew up with the program while the program was growing up. It was always my dream to come here. Curt made a decision that not only affected his life, but my life, as well.”
Chase Casali’s path to Vanderbilt truly began when his oldest brother chose to sign with Vanderbilt. He followed Curt’s career as well as that of the middle Casali brother, Andrew, who played baseball at University of Maryland-Baltimore Country. Chase Casali said his family used to huddle around the computer watching streams of Vanderbilt baseball, in the days before the SEC Network. “That’s how we bonded as a family,” he said.
As Casali began to look at colleges, he kept in touch with Corbin. Vanderbilt’s head coach then helped secure him a spot as a manager when he arrived as a student on West End.
“I’ll tell you this, and you’ll probably laugh, but he’s the same kid now that he was when he was eight years old,” Corbin said. “At eight years old, he was an old soul. He’s looking at me across the table. He’s talking to me like an adult. He says he’s going to play for me, and if you were there, you’d think he was.
“Chase just never lost his emotion for this university. He’s an old soul, but he’s the lowest-maintenance kid I’ve ever been around. He’s always doing something, never has to be patted on the back, and that’s why everybody loves him.”
Now Casali is one of four student managers for Vanderbilt, joining Jack Goodrum, Jackson Kelley and Ethan Stern. Managers play an integral role in the day-to-day operations of Vanderbilt baseball, performing key practice and game day duties. Last season, Casali volunteered as a bullpen catcher during the Black & Gold series, a role that he expects to continue in 2019.
Casali, a human organizational development major, once eyed a career in professionally baseball. Now he says he never wants to leave college. This Thursday, Casali will venture to Talking Stick, Ariz. with the Commodores as they open the season as the preseason No. 1 team in the country in the MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament. The Dores return 24 letterwinners and eight of nine positional players from last season, when they fell one win shy of reaching the College World Series.
Casali enjoys being part of the success of Vanderbilt baseball. But his favorite aspect of his job? The locker room.
“It’s just seeing everyone every day,” Casali said. “We’re never apart. You go home for holiday breaks, and you love to see your family, but two days in you’re like, ‘I just want to get back to Vanderbilt and see my friends.’ It’s an awesome feeling. I just love everyone here.”
Vanderbilt’s opening series features a three-game stretch of three different teams: Virginia on Friday (6 p.m. CT on MLB Network), No. 25 Cal State Fullerton on Saturday (2 p.m.) and No. 19 TCU on Sunday (noon CT). Corbin said such tournaments are more difficult to prepare for, but he expects the Commodores to take value from their trip to Arizona.
“It will help everyone,” Corbin said on Wednesday. “In this tournament right here, once all the teams leave, I think they’ll say, ‘We helped each other.’ It’s not going to dictate where anyone goes, but someone’s got to win and someone’s got to lose.”
On the bump
Vanderbilt announced junior Drake Fellows will take the mound against Virginia in Friday’s opening game. The Commodores will send senior Patrick Raby out against Cal State Fullerton on Saturday, but Sunday’s starter has yet to be announced.
Vanderbilt boasts an unusually veteran roster heading into 2019. It enters the season with five seniors, the program’s most since 2008. But those seniors expect to be integral to the Commodores’ success; the group features infielders Julian Infante and Ethan Paul, outfielders Walker Grisanti and Stephen Scott and pitcher Patrick Raby.
Corbin said a seasoned group is an advantage going forward.
“Those kids have been through it enough now,” Corbin said. “They’ve been through postseason competition and preseason competition. There won’t be any jitters, I think they’re just excited more than anything else. They’re good role models in a playing environment for the younger kids.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.