Milwaukee Talks: Brewers infielder Casey McGehee
A month into his second season with the Brewers, Casey McGehee has gone from unknown prospect to starting third baseman to one of the team's more consistent and popular performers.
The story of the 27-year-old Californian's trek to success includes some familiar twists and turns. A 10th-round draft pick out of Fresno State, McGehee worked his way through the Cubs' minor-league system, racking up a handful of all-star appearances, but was waived after the 2008 season.
Claimed by the Brewers, he won a roster spot with a strong performance in spring training, worked into a regular role due to injuries (Rickie Weeks) and underperformance (Bill Hall) and made himself into a starting player.
Off the field, McGehee has earned attention because he and his wife, Sarah, have 3-year-old son, Mackail, who has cerebral palsy. Mack McGehee who threw out the ceremonial first pitch July 29 and then watched his father hit a game-winning homer, welcomed new sister Cooper Reece at the start of the team's current 10-game trip.
In the weeks leading up to that trek, we spoke to McGehee about those topics and more in a Milwaukee Talks interview.
OnMilwaukee.com: With the first year in Milwaukee under your belt, you're no longer the "new guy." There are some new faces on the team, though. Is this clubhouse really as welcoming as players say it is? What does all that stuff mean, anyway?
Casey McGehee: This clubhouse really is unbelievable. I came over (from Chicago) before spring training last year, and from Day One when I walked in for Fanfest and met some of the guys, instead of just, "Hey, nice to meet you" it was,"Welcome to the family." It's really like that. I think it's pretty rare to see six or seven or eight guys taking their families out to eat together and enjoying each other's company. But, that happens here. It's a good group. We have a lot of fun together.
OMC: Sometimes, that fun rubs other teams the wrong way. You guys aren't untucking your shirts after victories this year ...
CM: That's something Cam (Mike Cameron) wanted to do last year and other guys jumped on board with it. I think us not doing it this year speaks to the fact that everybody holds Cam in high regard in the clubhouse. He was a big part of the organization. He's still leaving his mark on the organization, because some of the things he left with the guys who were here last year, they're now passing it on to the new guys.
OMC: You lost Cameron and Jason Kendall from the clubhouse, but you still have guys who have been around a lot like Trevor Hoffman, Jim Edmonds, Gregg Zaun and Craig Counsell. Guys like Prince and Braun and Rickie Weeks may be young, but they are experienced. Is that "clubhouse leadership" thing people talk about really important?
CM: It is, but it's not really a rah-rah type of thing. It's more guys leading by example. You take a guy like Counsell -- he's out there grinding. He's one of the smartest baseball people you'll ever want to meet. There is never a time when he is not prepared. I think anybody that's spent any amount of time around him loves him. He's helped me tremendously in the last two years with a lot of different things. He's a pro's pro.
OMC: Let's talk about your situation. This was really the first year that you came into a situation where you were guaranteed a job -- not just a job, but a starting job -- in the big leagues. You didn't play winter ball, but you did have knee surgery. How does your knee feel?
CM: My knee feels great right now. I feel like I'm able to move around. There were days last year when it was pretty bad. It wasn't a lot of fun to be moving around.
OMC: When you got off to a slow start in spring training, people wondered if you were healthy or if you were going to suffer a sophomore slump. Did you worry about that? Did talk like that bother you?
CM: I've always been confident that I can play and contribute to a winning team at this level. At the same time, I'm glad people have questions. That's kind of the driving force for me going out there and working every day. I definitely have a chip on my shoulder. There is a little bit of that feeling that I want to prove it to people.
OMC: People may refer to you as a bit of a "late bloomer," but it seems like a lot of guys in that category just had to wait for their opportunity. Are you the same player today that you were three or four years ago, or was there a light that went on in terms of maturity and confidence that helped you succeed?
CM: I think it's a little of both. Like I said, I've always been confident that I could help a big league team win and be productive. Physically, I'm pretty much the same kind of player. I was kind of biding my time, waiting for a chance. I don't think I was quite ready for the big leagues as far as being able to handle it mentally.
OMC: How is the mental part different?
CM: I don't know if I was ready to handle the ups and downs of a season at the major-league level until a couple years ago. There is so much riding on each and every game and each and every pitch. There are so many people who are expecting you to perform. In Triple-A, you were trying to move up. There is nowhere to move up when you make it to the big leagues. The goal now is to win.
OMC: You hit in the spot behind Prince Fielder. You probably hear this a lot, but what is that like? How would you describe Prince as a teammate?
CM: It's so funny. People obviously want to know is he a good guy? Is he a jerk? You see him and he's a big guy. He's got tattoos all over. He's really a big kid. You couldn't ask for a nicer guy. He truly cares about the guys he's playing with. He definitely leads by example. No matter if he's hurt, injured, struggling or hot, he goes out there and gives it all he's got. He brings a lot of energy to the clubhouse.
OMC: What about Prince as a hitter?
CM: I am absolutely baffled as to how somebody can swing the bat as hard as he can and be as consistent and as successful as he is. If I tried to swing a bat with as much effort and violence as he does, I'd be totally out of control.
It's just amazing to me, the balance and the strength that he has to swing the bat as hard as he can and have all his mechanics stay together and get the bat on the ball consistently.
OMC: Ryan Braun is pretty good in that regard, too, but they seem pretty different ...
CM: Braunie is a lot more relaxed. Maybe a little more -- I don't want to say patient, because Prince will take some walks -- but he's more patient as far as waiting a pitcher out.
Braun looks smooth at the plate. Prince looks violent. He's kind of got that axe-murderer thing going on.
OMC: You're surrounded by some pretty popular players and you're starting to become a fan favorite, yourself. Is that something that you have to adjust to?
CM: It still takes a little getting used to when you are out to eat or something and somebody knows who you are. I'm still trying to get comfortable in my own skin as far as that goes.
OMC: Fans like your production. They like your blue-collar attitude. And, a number of them probably came to love you because of what happened July 29, the night that your son, Mackail, threw out the first pitch and you hit a big home run. I bet that night is something that is going to stay with you a long time.
CM: It really is. I don't think anybody will ever fully understand what I'm saying. That night, with him going out on the field and the response that we got throughout the year -- not only from fans but from the guys throughout the clubhouse -- was really special.
It really helped me deal with the disability my son has. To see that many people embrace him and accept him and treat him no different than they would anybody else, that meant a lot to me as a father and helped me come to terms with what he's got going on.
OMC: For people who don't know, could you elaborate a bit?
CM: Basically, he has cerebral palsy -- which is a fancy way of saying he has a weakness in his brain that was caused at some point, we're not sure when, either during his birth or shortly before or shortly thereafter.
Basically, the messages sent to his extremities and his abdomen don't get there the right way. For lack of better terms, he's always in a state of either his muscles being either in a state of being relaxed or tense. They don't move as freely or normally as anybody else's would.
As far as cognitively and intelligence-wise, we got fortunate that the area of his brain that was affected doesn't seem to at this point effect his ability to speak or understand or learn or anything like that. We got fortunate. There are people who have the exact same type of brain injury that he has that are far worse off or in a wheelchair. They can have a hard time speaking, because the muscles in their faces and mouth don't allow them to express themselves while they're talking.
OMC: Obviously, you've learned a lot through this ...
CM: No doubt about it. Frankly, I was always slightly uncomfortable around people who had cerebral palsy or Down syndrome. I didn't know how to act. Do I treat them differently or do I treat them my same? Having my son, it's been special to me. I realize that people with disabilities are regular people. They have the same hopes and dreams and aspirations as everybody else.
As far as my son is concerned, we hope he's treated the same as everybody else. Obviously, there are some things that physically he's not going to be able to do. But, we hold him to the same standard as any other kid. Most days, you forget that he's got anything going on. You spend five minutes with him, and he's got that infectious personality. People gravitate toward him.
OMC: You've been so open about your situation. That has to be tough.
CM: If there is any chance that I could help one person understand what people with those types of disabilities are going through and maybe help someone else in this situation, that's worth it.
There are a lot of guys that do things. Maybe my situation gets more attention, but there are a lot of guys in the clubhouse that are into something thing that you may not associate with at athlete. That's part of it. They're trying to make a difference and help out. In the grand scheme of things, we're not going to fix the world, but if you can help out in some small way, I think that goes a long way.
I hope Casey is a Brewer for a long time to come.
What a stand up guy. More ball players should be like him.
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