In preparation for the 2013 College World Series in Omaha, The Oregonian ran a nice piece on Oregon State’s head coach, Pat Casey, and his oldest son, Jon, yesterday.
It is a touching story of leader of the now two-time NCAA college baseball champs. Contrary what most would expect, it is not the senior Casey. Jon is autistic, type-1 diabetic, and unquestionably the most popular person in the college town of Corvallis, Oregon. The article explains Jon’s role with Beaver Baseball and the inspiration he provides for his father, his players, and many more.
Like most people from Corvallis, I know Jon. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing the Casey family for most of my life. Pat was my AAU basketball coach. His son Brett was one of the most gifted natural athletes I’ve ever competed with or against – a member of the 2007 CWS championship team and starting point guard on OSU’s basketball team as a walk-on, true freshman. But as the article explains, Jon is the celebrity in the family and a legend in the town.
Many sports fans remember the story of Jason “J-Mac” McElwain, the team manager of Rochester, New York’s Greece-Athena High School, who walked onto the basketball court on his school’s Senior Night in 2006 and walked off an ESPN legend. Six 3s and 20 points in the four minutes of his one high school appearance. The sentimental sports story of the year and still resonates with many to this day – one of those moments where sport transcends the playing field and demonstrates the importance they can play in the lives of competitors and fans alike.
Not to diminish his story or make light of it à la South Park and The Simpsons, but Jon already did it. I was there.
High school try-outs can be one of the most nerve racking experiences of any athletic adolescent. For those hoping to find a place on the illustrious 2000-2001 Crescent Valley High School junior varsity team of 12, coach Ryan Kirch decided to bend the rules. Jon was our 13th man. He knew Jon and knew how much it would mean to him. No one had more enthusiasm in pre-game warmups or talked more trash to opposing fans. His time on the court generally meant the game’s result had already been decided – either our lead was insurmountable or the deficit was too great for us to overcome. While a fiery competitor, Jon could care less. He was on the court and loving it. His trademark set-shot three-pointer was his weapon. Some days he was off, but many days he was dead on.
Fast forward to the 2003-04 season, my senior season and Jon’s first on the varsity squad. His role remained much of the same as the 13th man. Every day we would end practice with five minutes of the “Jon Zone.” A simple 2-3 zone defense and an offense informally called “get Jon the ball and get the hell out of the way.”
Jon is magic though. No rabbit-in-the-hat magic, but a special spirit that lifts people around him. On multiple occasions throughout the season, Jon would come into the game late and do his thing. With a shot selection that Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson would certainly approve of, Jon needed little encouragement to launch one from deep waters.
Playing an early season league game at South Albany High School, a league opponent from 10 miles away, Jon subbed in for me late in the game. I played most of the minutes for the first three and a half quarters, scoring maybe six points. Jon comes in and gets Steph Curry Hot from deep. 11 points in only a few minutes. We were going crazy on the bench, our parents were esctatic, and the opposing fans were beginning to get word of why people were rejoicing even though the outcome was already decided. They began cheering when he would get the ball and join everyone in celebration when that ball inevitable swished through that net. Head Coach Bruce Reid, one of the most frightening [and influential] men in my life, was brought to tears. A moment that still gives me chills.
That was just the beginning. We had a solid team that year, finishing second in our league to the eventual state champs, and making the playoffs before a Ndamukong Suh-led Grant High knocked us out. A memorable end to my competitive basketball career, but the moments that remain nine years later are the chants of “We Want Jon [clap-clap-clapclapclap]” echoing through our humble home gym. Fortunately, we got to hear that chant numerous times while we were leading late in games.
Fast-forward to our battle against cross-town rival, Corvallis High School. In a city of only two high schools, our stands were full with fans of both teams that night, flooding to the sidelines because there was not enough room to sit. We played great, blew them out. Half way through the 4th quarter, the chants began. They grew louder and louder until Coach Reid looked down the bench and pointed at Jon. I was in the Rose Garden in 2010, when Brandon Roy stepped on to the court after having knee surgery only eight days prior, whose mere presence pushed the Blazers to a playoff win over the Suns. That was nothing compared to Jon walking over to the scorer’s table.
Everyone in that gym knew Jon and his story. You can predict the outcome from here. I don’t remember how much he scored, that night is engrained in my memory, but the details are blurry other than being present in that moment. 3s reigned in. I know at least three of them, but you could tell me he made nine and I’d believe you. The entire gym, both those in our Raider red-and-gold and the CHS’ Carolina blue, were going wild. Everyone knew that night was special. No one more so than Jon. Forget cloud nine, Jon was getting intergalactic that night.
Sports have meant a lot to me throughout my life. I’ve played in some great games, watched many more in person or on television, and appreciate the historic performances before my sports viewing time. Nothing compares to that night. Nothing.
The sheer joy on Jon’s face. An entire community (including our opponents) understanding how special that moment was. The power of sports.
If you watch the Beavers play in the College World Series today against Mississippi State or in the coming days, you will likely hear the story of Jon Casey. During the Beavers’ back-to-back championship run in 2006 and ’07, he was profiled by reporters and announcers, most importantly by everyone’s favorite, Erin Andrews.
If your team is playing in Omaha this next week, go ahead and cheer for them. But if you pass on cheering for the Beavers, just know that you might be missing some sports magic.