CHICAGO – Detroit Tigers pitcher Casey Crosby admitted he was a little bit overwhelmed when stepped onto the Comerica Park field two weeks ago.
Everywhere he turned, the former Kaneland pitcher saw cameras, documenting his first start as a major leaguer, and his eyes grew wide when he glanced at the stadium’s upper deck, which dwarfed anything he’d seen during his 41⁄2 years in Detroit’s minor league system.
“I was just trying to take it all in while still doing my job,” Crosby said Tuesday while standing outside the visitors’ clubhouse at Wrigley Field, where Tigers would play the Cubs.
When Crosby realized his dream was possible six years ago, the venue was much smaller, but the moment was just as seminal.
On a February day before his junior season for the Knights, Crosby stood on a makeshift mound in the balcony gymnasium at Kaneland, reared back and threw a pitch in front of a radar gun, something he’d done only a handful of times. The gun registered 88 mph, and the 6-foot-2 lefty immediately knew he had the chance to pitch at a high level.
“That’s when I first realized, ‘Wow, I have a shot at this happening,’ ” Crosby said. “That was the point in my life when I said, ‘I think I can do this for a living.’ ”
That summer, he began working with Bill Copp, a local coach who pitched in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor league system for four years.
Copp, now an assistant at Marmion Academy, immediately knew he was dealing with a special athlete, but there were flaws.
“I saw some things that I knew I could help right away,” Copp said. “But I could see the electricity in the arm.”
Copp worked on Crosby’s delivery, correcting his form so that he didn’t thrust his body at the plate and leave his arm behind, form conducive to shoulder injuries.
He made sure the young pitcher repeated his delivery in the same way, time and time again. The two worked on his change-up grip, which he still uses today.
“He helped me out a lot,” Crosby said. “He told me what I needed to do in order to be successful. It’s not about blowing people away, it’s about maintaining consistency.”
After an impressive outing at a showcase event, scouts began to flock to Crosby’s games during his senior year.
“There was a lot of hype surrounding him,” said Kaneland coach Brian Aversa, then in his first year with the Knights. “He really remained level-headed. He remained focused and on what he needed to do. It was a special year for him.”
All the while, Aversa promised he’d make it out to Crosby’s first major league start.
Even after Crosby injured his elbow, forcing him to have Tommy John surgery, Aversa and Copp held steady that they’d see their former athlete pitch in a major league game.
Sure enough, Aversa drove up to Comerica Park on June 1 to see Crosby’s first start, while Copp, recovering from recent back surgery, watched from his living room.
After losing his first start, allowing six runs in 31⁄3 innings against the Yankees, Crosby notched his first victory against Cleveland, allowing three runs in 51⁄3 innings.
“It’s a little surreal,” said Aversa, who went to both starts. “He deserves the success that he’s having. It’s good to see things come full circle.”
The past few weeks have been surreal for Crosby, even though he didn’t doubt himself while he rose through the minor leagues.
On Tuesday, Crosby took a moment to himself to walk out onto the field at Wrigley, a stadium he’d visited dozens of times as a kid. Even though he won’t pitch in the series, Tuesday’s arrival was one of those moments that made him fully realize that he finally had made it.
“It’s just really cool to get back to where I watched [so many] games,” Crosby said. “This is one of those things that I’ve dreamt about.”