Most New Canaan youth baseball players have dreams of one day playing in the Major Leagues. This upcoming Monday, those kids will have a chance to get up close and personal with a real-life major leaguer who—not too long ago—started his career on the very same fields they’re playing on today.
Tampa Bay Rays catcher Curt Casali will return to New Canaan High School to headline a youth pitching/catching clinic on Monday, December 26th, from 12 to 2pm. Casali, a 2007 NCHS graduate, will be joined by current high school players as well as a veritable who’s-who of Rams baseball alumni, all of whom took their talents to the next level—collegiate baseball. This group includes Casey Ouellette (University of Bridgeport), David Giusti (Lafayette), Dan Rajkowski (UCONN), Zack Smith (Salve Regina), J.R. Anderson (Amherst) and Matt Toth (Trinity).
For New Canaan Rams baseball head coach Mitch Hoffman, the clinic—which bridges current New Canaan ballplayers at the lowest level with a former New Canaan ballplayer at the highest level—is representative of a growing diamond culture in a lacrosse-crazy town. It’s a culture that brought the Rams its first state title in 2013 and subsequently ushered in unprecendented and consistent success.
“When I sent a text message to all the past players, every one of them was like, ‘Yeah coach, whatever you need,'” Hoffman told NewCanaanite.com. “Curtis is the cream of the crop, but having these guys want to give back to the program and talk to some of the younger guys—it’s really become a town-wide program.”
As Casali himself said at last year’s clinic, tangibility is key for the younger players—be it youth players looking to play in high school, high school players looking to play in college and college players looking to play professionally.
“When I was growing up we didn’t have as structured assistance like we do now,” Casali said. “That’s really encouraging kids to play baseball from a young age and getting to see college baseball players and myself being a professional. It’s something that’s attainable for them.”
Casali had an up-and-down 2016 MLB campaign in which he struggled early in the season while splitting time behind the plate with veteran Bobby Wilson before being sent down to Triple-A Durham in August. After regaining his hitting stroke, Casali was recalled to the bigs and finished stong, hitting .268 with three doubles, a homer and 5 RBI after his promotion. Casali should enter Spring Training as a front-runner for the Rays’ starting catcher job in 2017.