Pat Casey: 700-plus wins at Oregon State, and not counting
CORVALLIS -- When Pat Casey entered the Goss Stadium players' locker room late Saturday night after Oregon State's victory over Oregon, there was a surprise in store.
Somebody told him he had just notched his 700th career victory as the Beavers' head coach.
"We announced it when he came in to talk to the players," OSU assistant coach Pat Bailey says. "They clapped. He just shook his head and walked out. The players didn't know about it until afterward. Pat didn't know, either. I'm dead serious."
"It never even occurred to me," Casey says. "Beating Oregon sure did."
Casey began the climb toward No. 800 Sunday with a 7-1 rout of the Ducks for a sweep of the three-game series and moved the Beavers (31-8 overall, 14-4 in Pac-12) to the top of the conference standings with a month of schedule yet to play.
The 20th-year OSU mentor stands 10th on the Pac-12 career victories list, a testament to Casey's coaching acumen and work ethic as he has built the program into a national powerhouse. The Beavers, currently ranked second and third in the national polls, won the 2006 and '07 College World Series and have made it to Omaha four of the past nine years, something beyond the wildest dreams of anyone when he arrived from George Fox in 1994.
"He put Northwest baseball on the map," says Bailey, who succeeded Casey at George Fox and has been on his OSU staff for seven years. "Winning 700 is an unbelievable accomplishment. The best part of it is, Pat is such a humble guy. (The landmark) is important to him, but he couldn't care less about records. All he cares about are our players.
"He wants our guys to play hard and do things right and work hard. He cares about them as human beings. He wants to make them better people. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for what Pat believes in. Our program is about three things: building character, teaching kids to have great work habits in the classroom and on the field, and making others more important than yourself."
Casey, 53, is mindful of his achievement but shrugs off any personal acclaim.
"Numbers go with longevity," says Casey, 872-510 over 26 years at Oregon State and George Fox. "I''ve always said it's humbling to be a coach. The higher the level, the more humbling it is. Had I not been offered the job at Oregon State in 1994, I'd probably be doing something different in life. I'd have missed the greatest experience I could have. I'm honored to be at a place like Oregon State.
"Those numbers reflect a lot of hard work from a lot of people -- players, coaches, trainers, SIDs, boosters. I've been very fortunate to have the support of so many."
Casey loves what Oregon State baseball has become to its fans.
"The grandfather of one of our equipment managers told me he gets goosebumps when he gets to the city limits, coming to games at Goss," Casey says. "That puts it in a nutshell for me, when people feel like that. (Former pitcher) Matt Boyd's parents got in a car and drove down from Washington for a recent series. They said they missed Beaver baseball, that there is a void in their lives now. There's something special about the people and the place."
How many phone calls, texts and emails of congratulations did Casey receive after his recent milestone?
"Trust me, more than I returned, unfortunately," he says.
Casey's current Oregon State team is a national championship contender, primarily because of a pitching staff with a Pac-12-best 2.18 ERA (fourth nationally) and opponents' batting average of .216.
On Friday, senior Ben Wetzler beat Oregon 3-1 to set a school record with his 31st career victory.
"It was neat for him to do it at Goss, knowing the reasons Benny decided to come back for his senior season," Casey says. "His whole purpose was to complete his education, and because he loves being a college baseball player. I think that record will stand for a long time."
Wetzler ranks seventh on the OSU career strikeouts list with 253, needing 47 more to pass Jonah Nickerson (299).
"He might get it," Casey says, "but he doesn't think about those kind of things. I'm glad he's having fun and having success. I'm happy for him, for his family, for us."
Oregon State's weekend rotation of senior left-hander Wetzler (7-1, 0.73 ERA, a Pac-12 best and No. 2 nationally), sophomore right-hander Andrew Moore (4-3, 2.87) and junior left-hander Jace Fry (8-1, 1.76) ranks with any in the country. Pitching coach Nate Yeskie said he was particularly pleased with Moore's performance in Saturday's win over the Ducks, which he called the righty's best outing of the season.
"I'm more impressed with Andrew this year than last year, because he has dealt with adversity," said Yeskie of Moore, who earned first-team All-America and Pac-12 freshman of the year honors with a 14-2 record and 1.79 ERA last season. "There wasn't a lot of adversity for him to deal with last year.
"Two defining moments for him have been his performances last year and this year against Oregon, when we really needed him."
Fry is gathering momentum as he returns to full strength following Tommy John elbow surgery in 2012. His one-hit, eight-inning gem against Oregon was proof.
"Jace was effectively wild at times, and particularly sharp at other times," Yeskie says. "He has all four pitches working for him now. He's been using the slider less this year because his curveball is better. He's probably between 87 and 92 (mph) with the fastball, and since he's left-handed with that kind of snake to it, it might as well be 93."
The bullpen features senior right-handed submariner Brandon Jackson (no runs, no walks, three hits allowed in seven innings), junior left-hander Zack Reser (0.41 ERA in 22 innings) and senior right-handed closer Scott Schultz (4-2, 1.90).
Then there is All-America outfielder Michael Conforto, having another sensational season. The 6-1, 215-pound junior from Woodinville, Wash., leads the Pac-12 with a .410 batting average, a .557 on-base percentage, 38 walks and 40 runs and is second in the conference in RBIs (behind teammate Dylan Davis) with 44 RBIs.
"Michael has been awesome," Casey says. "I'm proud of him. There's a big part of me that thinks he's one of the top five (draft) picks in the country (in June). He's going to be real good some day at the major league level."
Oregon State is without senior utility man Kavin Keyes, who had surgery after breaking his left thumb on April 13. Casey hopes Keyes -- who is batting .325 and ranks seventh on OSU's career list with 202 hits -- can return for the Beavers' final regular-season series at Southern Cal May 23-25.
"Kav's so dependable at the plate, you miss relying on what he does," Casey says. "He has had a hell of a career here. He wants to play again this season. The surgery went very well, so we think that's going to happen."
Casey was pleased with the sweep of Oregon, bringing his record to 18-9 against OSU's in-state rival since the Ducks reinstated baseball in 2009. The Beavers' pitching staff yielded three earned runs in three games.
"We played the way we want to play," Casey says. "I don't think Oregon played bad baseball at all. Our guys just came out with a lot of intensity and energy."
Oregon State is not a perfect team. Freshman starters Logan Ice (catcher), Trever Morrison (shortstop) and Caleb Hamilton (third base) are all batting between .225 and .250, though their on-base percentages are respectable. There's not a lot of depth anywhere except at pitcher.
"We need to swing (the bat) a little better, and our pen needs to be more consistent," Casey says. "But the guys are playing hard and have put themselves in a position where we have a chance to achieve some of the goals we've set for ourselves."
Those goals include a second straight Pac-12 championship and one of eight national seeds in the NCAA playoffs.
Oregon State ranks No. 1 nationally in Boyd's World Iterative Strength Ratings (in which strength of schedule figures in heavily) and 11th in RPI rankings. Washington is the next Pac-12 team with an RPI ranking of 23.
What does Casey think of his team's chances to gain a national seed?
"I'm thinking about how we're going to do at California this weekend," Casey says. The Bears "have a lot of talent and a good club. They just won their series with Stanford. But we've always played well at Cal. Hope we can continue to do that."