One of the draw backs to playing professional baseball is having to move far away from family and friends.
However, although he is on the other side of the continent, one local Minor Leaguer got a little taste of home this past week.
“It was great to see everybody and get to hang out every day,” commented Ryan Casteel, who currently plays for the Modesto Nuts in the High A California League, but had nine recent visitors with Bradley County connections.
Along with his dad Randy, stepmom Leslie, plus brothers Cooper and Brody coming for an entire six-game homestand this past week, Casteel also got to spend a few days with former youth league coaches Howard Hamilton, Jimmy Harper and Joe Coccia before his wife Bethany’s parents, Vickie and Lamar Vest, came for a visit this weekend.
“It’s been a busy week, but it was great to see our family and my former coaches. I think the world of them,” he added. “It was good timing. We got to spend some quality time with all of them. Bethany (his wife) and I really enjoyed getting to see them. Being this far away, a visit like this really means a lot to us.”
“In his first at bat that we got to see, Ryan hit a grand slam (home run). That was great,” proclaimed Randy Casteel. “He’s been having a great season. It’s been tough not being able to see him until now, but we had a great time.”
Last year when Casteel was assigned to the Class A Asheville, N.C., squad, the family “got to go see him 20-30 times” either in North Carolina or when the Tourists played in Rome, Ga.
“The ushers at Rome got to know who we were and in Asheville as well,” his dad related. “We got to go see him once in Casper (Wyo., Rookie League in 2010), but didn’t get to go to (Low A Tri-Cities, 2011) Washington his second year at all.”
“We planned this vacation when the team (Modesto) had a long home stand,” Randy related. “We also were able to go to Yosemite (National Park), plus we went to the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, as well as a Giants game in San Francisco before taking the ‘red eye’ home (Saturday morning).”
“This was possibly a once in a lifetime trip, so we wanted to make the most of it,” he added “We had a great time and the people treated us like royality. I had several fans, once they found out we were Ryan’s family, tell me how much they loved having Ryan on the team.”
Other than the 2,400-mile distance from home, Casteel is enjoying his time in the San Francisco region of the Golden State. The former Bradley Central and Cleveland State standout is tied for the California League lead with 21 home runs, having cranked a two-run shot in Friday’s 11-7 victory at Visalia (Calif.). He is also third in the league in slugging percentage (.583).
Despite having played in just 82 of Modesto’s 106 games this summer, Casteel is in the team’s Top 4 in every offensive category, including leading the Nuts not only in HR and slugging percentage, but runs batted in (68, tied for 10th in the league), total bases (182, 8th in league), OPS (.944, 6th in league) and doubles (24).
He is second on the squad in batting average (.285), on base percentage (.361) and walks (37). He is also tied for third with three triples and fourth in both hits (89) and runs scored (49).
Splitting time behind the plate and at designated hitter while hitting in the meat of the batting order, Casteel also hasn’t committed an error this season, plus he’s picked several runners off base, including one off third base this past week.
“I’m feeling great, physically and mentally,” he remarked. “I’ve played more games than I’ve ever played. We’re all tired because we’ve only had one team day off this month, but we have four next month as the season winds down.”
“We talked in the off season about the need for a ‘break out season’ and he’s having one,” expressed his dad. “They (the Colorado Rockies organization) have had him working with strength and hitting coaches to try to get more power and it has paid off. He’s doing this (big power numbers) in what is considered the second-toughest home hitting park in all of Minor League Baseball. The power alleys are 393 (feet).”
After going just 32-38 in the first half of the season, Modesto is 19-17 and just a half game behind North Division leader San Jose in the current standings as the Nuts battle for a spot in the playoffs. The California league regular season runs through Sept. 2.
Casteel’s former coaches also enjoyed their journey to the West Coast.
“Ryan was on our 13-14 year-old team as well as the all-star teams we coached,” explained. Hamilton. “We won the Dizzy Dean state championship both years he played.”
“We usually try to make a ‘baseball trip’ each summer,” explained the local veterinarian. “Last year it was just Jimmy (Harper, the Lee University campus pastor) and I as Joe (Coccia, who teaches high school in South Carolina) had just had neck surgery. We went to several Major and Minor League games, plus went to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown (N.Y.).”
“This year we were talking about going up the Eastern seaboard, but then Joe said something about making the trip out here,” Hamilton said Saturday morning while waiting at the San Francisco airport for his flight home. “We got to see four (Modesto) Nuts games, plus we went to a (San Francisco) Giants and (Oakland) A’s games. Jimmy had to go back Wednesday, but Joe and I are flying home today (Saturday).”
“It was great to get to see Ryan play,” he added. “Last year Jimmy and I went to see him in Asheville and Rome, while Joe got to see him when he played games in Savannah (Ga.) and Charleston (S.C.).”
On their journey last summer that included Major League games in Toronto, Chicago and Cincinnati, as well as stopping to visit 18 minor league stadiums (not all for games), Hamilton and Harper were able to visit the home of the Binghamton (N.Y.) Mets, where former Walker Valley and University of Memphis standout Ryan Fraser plays.
“We didn’t get to see him play because when we were there it was during the all-star break, but we got to see the facilities,” Hamilton related.
After getting called up to Class AA in June of 2012, Fraser finished strong and then was invited to represent the New York Mets organization in the prestigious Arizona Fall League.
The big right-handed reliever suffered a torn ACL while doing some off-season conditioning, forcing him to have surgery and causing a late start to his fourth professional season.
After rehabbing his knee, Fraser was released by doctors to begin training on May 1. After five appearances with High-A Port St. Lucie, Fla., he was headed back to New York to rejoin his former team.
Working mainly in middle relief, Fraser has been on the mound for 22 1/3 innings so far this season, but has struggled some, posting a 7.25 earned run average and a 2.01 WHIP. He has a 1-1 record with a hold to his credit in 15 games. He has struck out 14 batters, but walked 18, while allowing 18 earned runs.
Having posted a 65-40 record so far, Binghamton had a comfortable 11 1/2 game lead in the Eastern Division race of the Eastern League.