FORT MYERS, Fla. — FGCU baseball coaches Dave Tollett and Rusty McKee made Casey Coleman an offer he hoped to hear.
Maybe he even needed to hear.
The offer led the former Mariner High star in Cape Coral to becoming a two-way star for the Eagles, a major league pitcher and now, an FGCU Hall of Famer.
He was inducted into the school’s second-ever Hall of Fame Friday alongside former teammate Richard Bleier, softball teammates Carmen Paez Jimenez and Cheyenne Jenks (was also a volleyball standout), and PGA golfer Derek Lamely.
Casey made baseball history joined his father Joe and grandfather Joe in becoming the first three-generational family to make the major leagues as pitchers (one of four families overall with the Boones, Bells and Hairstons).
His professional pitching career – which has seen him throw almost 1,300 innings and post of record of 81-68 with 40 saves over 15 years – has taken him to Single A, Double-A and Triple-A teams around the country as well as Mexico. He went 8-13 in his four-year major league career with the Chicago Cubs and Kansas City Royals.
In his latest endeavor, the 6-foot, 185-pounder will attend spring training for Leones de Yucatan of the Mexican League. He’s coming off surgery to repair a dislocated shoulder.
“My son Caleb is 6 and it’s fun to be out there with him and see his love for baseball,” Casey said. “And he’s pretty good. He always asks me, ‘When are you going to pitch again?’ So he’s a real inspiration.
“Before my shoulder popped out of place, I threw 94 (mph) on the pitch before. The surgery went well, as clean as it can be for a 35-year-old with hundreds of innings thrown.”
Coleman‘s father – who went 142-135 over 15 major league seasons and was an AL All Star – supports his son’s resilience.
“His arm age is much less than his physical age,” he said. “People with repaired shoulders can pitch into their 40s. Also, he’s very determined and works very hard. Who knows? This is something he wants to pursue so leave no stone unturned.”
With Joe Coleman working as a pitching coach after his career, Donna literally took over coaching Casey. From his start at age 4 until 16, she coached him for youth and travel ball.
“I was a coach and played sports,” she said. “I could either complain or I could get involved; and Casey was able to handle his mom being a coach.
Besides pitching to him daily in the family’s backyard batting cage, Donna Coleman said, “I spent hours upon hours upon hours hitting fungoes and pitching to him.”
And when Casey got to college… Let Tollett pick it up from here.
“I’m in the office at Christmas break and I saw Casey throwing in the bullpen. I go down there and who’s catching him? Donna. She’s catching in full gear and he’s throwing 94 mph. And she’s not catching like she’s swatting flies. An 81 mph slider, a two-seamer, sinker, which is hard for anybody. And she’s catching the ball. It was one of the most amazing things I ever saw.”
Because of the work she saw her son put in – and because of Casey‘s talent – Donna was adamant he get the chance to play infield and pitch.
LSU, Clemson and Baylor showed interest.
Georgia Tech made him a great offer. Florida Atlantic wanted him as a pitcher.
When Coleman took his visit to FGCU, Tollett and McKee made a pitch that went beyond going to the mound or the infield.
“They told me they wanted me to help build this program,” Casey said. “And they also said, ‘We want you to come and be a baseball player.’
That’s all he needed to hear. His goal wasn’t to be an ACC player, it was to be a professional baseball player; and FGCU offered him the best chance to continue a family legacy.
“I said, ‘Casey, you come here and you’re going to do both right away,’ ” Tollett said. “You’re an area kid. You’re going to play – and you’re ready to play right now.
“Now I said, you might not be a Friday (starter) or Saturday, I don’t want to ruin your arm, but you’ll be a Sunday starter or midweek starter. That way, you get to play all four games.”
Tollett said it also helped that Josh Upchurch – Casey‘s teammate at Mariner – also committed to FGCU.
What Casey and his mother appreciated is that when the FGCU coaches told him he’d pitch and play on the infield, they backed it up.
And he performed.
Over his three seasons with the Eagles, Casey went 16-6 as a pitcher with 171 strikeouts. He often pitched against ranked teams in those midweek games.
Splitting time at second base, shortstop and third, he hit .318 with 98 runs scored, 156 hits, 26 doubles, eight home runs and 97 RBI. Despite only playing three seasons, Coleman still ranks fourth in school history in triples (nine), ninth in saves (six) and 10th in wins (16).
In FGCU’s three Division II postseason wins, Casey earned a win and a save while he went 4-for-12 with four runs scored and three RBI.
The Eagles went 119-49 in the three seasons he played.
After the Atlanta Braves called about possibly drafting him – “They asked me if I’d sign for $100,000 or x amount and I said yes” – the Cubs called him in the 14th round and chose him in the 15th.
Casey considered holding out for more money but his dad, “put me in my place and gave me the best advice I ever got,” he said.
“My dad said, ‘You’re a 6-foot, right-handed pitcher,’ ” he recalls. “I’ve got guys on my team that are farther along. Take what they offer, be grateful, get in front and show them who you are.”
Joe Coleman added, “I knew if he didn’t take the chance, he’d regret it. If you’re haggling over a couple of thousand dollars and don’t play because of a little money, you’ll really regret it the rest of your life.”
Casey advanced so fast through the Cubs’ system he was named the team’s Minor-League Pitcher of the Year in 2009.
When he pitched for the Cubs on Aug. 2, 2010, he joined his father and grandfather as the first three generations of pitchers in Major League history when he entered the game in the sixth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers. The first pitch he threw was sent to the Hall of Fame.
“It was so much stress, honestly,” he said. “So many emotions. I had friends and family there and every wants to see me and I still have a job to. I had interviews with the media. How to handle the excitement and nerves and everyone who supported you. So many things came into play.
“That night I got crushed but I settled down after that, got more confidence and did well my rookie year.”
After battling through injuries, Casey wants to give it one more shot. In the meantime, he’ll work toward completing his degree at FGCU in integrated studies.
He, Caleb and his mother will come to the Hall of Fame banquet from their homes in Tennessee.
“It’ll be great to come back,” Donna Coleman said. “It was the best decision to play there. He was happy there. It worked out well.”
Coleman’s top three FGCU moments
1. Winning the 2008 ASUN Baseball Championship in the school’s first year in the conference: “I could sense a joy with our coaches, everything they worked for, building a program. To be part of that first year in Division I was something special. We couldn’t play in the conference playoffs or NCAA tournament so we achieved everything we could achieve.”
2. Allowing one run on eight hits in eight innings and hitting a three-run double in a 6-4 win over No. 25 Central Florida on April 2, 2008: “I had a lot of friends there and UCF overlooked me. It also was a big win for Toe (Dave Tollett). That was my best collegiate outing against a good in-state program. They thought they were better than us. It was a win over an in-state rival who had way more students than we did.”
3. Hit an RBI triple, then scored on a wild throw as Division II FGCU rallied to beat Notre Dame 5-3 in 2007 before 2,062 fans at Swanson Stadium on March 16, 2008: “I had a sprained ankle the week before and ran around the bases on a bum ankle. I hit a line drive in the gap to opposite field and the left-fielder couldn’t’ get it. We sold a lot of tickets, thousands of people were there.”