NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Chase Casali was always going to be a part of Vanderbilt baseball.
As legend goes, he made that life goal quite clear to Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin a long time ago when Corbin was recruiting Casali’s brother, one Curt Casali – now catcher for the Cincinnati Reds.
But the younger Casali didn’t wind up leaving his mark by hitting home runs or throwing scoreless innings for the Commodores. He did so behind the scenes as a student manager toiling away to uphold the standards of Vandy baseball.
“He’s the kind of kid you never want to lose him. I want him to be around our program forever,” Vanderbilt assistant coach Mike Baxter said. “He’s a special person. He’s totally selfless. He’s as much a part of our team as anyone – anyone the fans see in the box score. (Casali) is just as big a part of our group day to day as any of those kids on TV.”
Back home in his native Connecticut now, Casali has had some time to sit back and reflect on the past four years at Vanderbilt, the majority of which were spent at Hawkins Field.
He watched the Commodores fanatically growing up while his older brother starred on West End from 2008-11. And until arriving as a freshman at Vandy in 2016, he kept in touch with the Corbin family so that when he arrived in Nashville he had the inside track to joining the program.
Fast forward to this month, a month that includes Casali earning his graduate degree from Vanderbilt just weeks after the global pandemic of COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the remainder of the 2020 season.
“It absolutely lived up to the hype. It was a dream come true, for sure,” Casali said about his time at Vanderbilt. “I think it was a lot harder work than I thought it was going to be, but in the end I think it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.”
Casali, understandably, was disappointed he didn’t get to finish out his senior season while watching how this year’s squad would progress and develop. He broke down the 2020 Commodores as a pitching-heavy group that wouldn’t be the same team by the end of the campaign that it was at the start – and that the expectation was still always to return to Omaha, Nebraska, and the College World Series.
It was there in 2019 that Casali helped celebrate Vandy’s second national championship after the Commodores took 2 of 3 from Michigan in the final series. He admitted that moment took a while to fully set in.
“I know when you look back at highlight videos of when my brother was there, the program wasn’t really established yet and now it’s this big powerhouse,” Casali said. “I don’t think a lot of people can appreciate how far Vanderbilt has come. It’s just been awesome to be a part of it and see it when it’s at the top of its game.
“The thing that was special about that (2019) team is that everyone just had such good relationships with each other. There were never any disagreements, really, and if there was, it was dealt with quickly. The goal was always the national championship, but we were just focused on the day to day of that season and enjoying each other, enjoying the time that we had together – because we knew it wasn’t going to last forever. That team was absolutely incredible. Those are going to be my best friends forever. Just extremely thankful to be a part of that.”
Casali’s role with the squad encompassed most anything through the years and had evolved into bullpen catcher and even batting practice pitcher in recent seasons. A human and organizational development major, Casali has considered going into college baseball coaching, pursuing a master’s degree or even rejoining the program in a volunteer capacity for the 2021 season.
Whatever path he chooses, his teammates have the utmost confidence in his abilities.
“Chase, that’s my boy,” Vanderbilt senior Harrison Ray said. “We were roommates freshman and sophomore year. Anything you’ve ever needed from Chase, he’d do it. I can’t tell you the number of times Chase hit me ground balls, flipped to me – he’s a leader.
“Anything you needed, he’d do it. If you want ground balls or to flip, if the pitchers need a bullpen, Chase would go catch it. It really shows his character and who he really is.”
Casali recounted the day Corbin told the team the 2020 season had indeed been officially canceled – and that was an emotional moment. But he also said he has come to realize how serious COVID-19 turned out to be and his perspective, over time, changed to understanding the severity of the current climate.
As for the lessons learned at Hawkins Field, Casali said self-discipline, attention to detail and decency stood out to him during a journey he always he knew he would be a part of.
“Chase was never overshadowed by his older, baseball-playing brother,” Corbin said. “Chase carved out his own career. He very much is his own person. He’s a go-to guy. He just has so many skills.
“He went from a student manager, in a lot of cases, to an undergraduate student coach. He’s incredibly bright, he’s articulate, trustworthy – he’s just so accountable. Funny with a dry sense of humor, but so respected by the team and his peers and just such a giving kid.”