Saturday, September 18, 1999

As person, Casey has the bloodlines

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PITTSBURGH — Jim Casey grew up in Sayville, N.Y. I know Sayville. It's a working-class town on the south shore of Long Island, an hour from Manhattan, where kids earned summer money delivering papers and digging clams.

        Back in the 50s, everybody in Sayville knew everybody else. Everybody spoke, because if they didn't, they were snobs. Years later, when the 10-year-old friends of Jim's son Sean would breeze through the Casey living room in suburban Pittsburgh without saying a word, Jim would stop them and make them say hello.

        “Parents are people, too,” he'd say. “Everyone deserves respect.”

        Sean Casey speaks to everyone like he means it. He has this big, impossibly open face, just like his father's, and he is just as easy with a laugh and a smile. Jim Casey has a saying: “Show me your friends and I'll tell you who you are.”

        Here's another: Show me a son and I'll see his father.

        Sean Casey's first full major league season is almost done, and he has ripped it up. He leads the Reds in hitting and is second in home runs and RBI. Casey's glad presence has helped make the Reds clubhouse a pleasant place.

Thank the parents
        He has done that without copping an attitude or big-timing the public. Casey has been a star without the baggage, and for that we owe his parents, Jim and Jean.

        There is no handbook for being a good parent. You are a parent the way Jack McKeon is a manager: by feel. The good parents fill their homes with love, respect and humility. They do what they must to make their lessons take.

        I ask Jim Casey what he taught his son. “Golden rules,” he says.

        Treat people how you want to be treated. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything. Pay attention to people that other people don't. Maintain the dignity of the individual.

        As a Pirates fan who went to a lot of games growing up, “Sean saw a lot of athletes here and how they acted, good and bad,” Jim says. His son's heroes “were the guys who kept their humanity when they became divine personages. He's not real big on guys who put on airs.”

"Fat kid at first base'
        Sean Casey always has time. This is what fans say they want. It's what they claim to miss about today's players, who are insulated from the rest of us by money, and by the celebrity we've chosen to grant them. They have no time.

        Jim Casey says his son “was always the fat kid at first base.” He told him, “The only thing that's going to differentiate you from the natural athletes is hard work.”

        By age 12, Jim Casey worked two or three jobs in the summer. To pay his way through private high school, he worked as a janitor. Lessons learned, and passed on. Father to son.

        The Caseys took their son to Mass, too, every Sunday he was a kid. Jim figured the exposure was good, but wondered if it would stick. Kids grow, they make up their own minds about religion.

        “He kept the faith, though. That's what makes me proudest. He realizes there's more to this life than meets the eye, and that we're all in this together.

        “His faith rooted him in baseball,” Jim says. “It grounded him.”

        The worst thing Sean Casey ever did growing up was steal baseball cards. As punishment, Jim made him look up the word “greed” in the dictionary and write the definition 10 times.

        “I'm all for letting kids make their own mistakes, learn the hard way. But you confront them with the lesson when it needs to be learned. They need to be accountable,” Jim Casey says. “It's like my father said: If you dance, you pay the fiddler. Whatever that means.”

        Jim doesn't know why his son paid such close attention. Some kids just do. If the parents are grounded in the simple decencies, it can make all the difference.

        No judgments this morning. No wondering why Jack McKeon does what he does with baserunners and relief pitchers. Just lessons learned, and passed on. Father to son.

        Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 758-8454.