After spending three seasons at Fresno State and six years in the Chicago Cubs’ organization, former star, and Santa Cruz native, Casey McGehee has emerged as a primary offensive catalyst for the Milwaukee Brewers during the last three years.
The 28-year old third baseman posted a .285 average along with 38 doubles, 23 home runs and a team-high 104 runs batted in (RBI) for the Brewers last season.
A 2000 Soquel High School graduate, McGehee was the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s Player of the Year in both 1999 and 2000. He batted .489 as a senior at Soquel with 10 home runs, 52 RBI and 51 runs scored and didn’t strike out once during the entire season.
Patch had a chance to catch up with Casey, chat about his career, reflect on his time at Soquel this week.
Capitola-Soquel Patch: You had standout careers at both Soquel and Fresno State, but then spent six seasons in the minors before finally getting your first shot at the majors. Now you been starting for the Brewers for the last three years. What’s this whole process been like for you?
Casey McGehee: When I was in high school, I didn’t really think too much past just getting a scholarship to go play somewhere in college. Santa Cruz, at the time, wasn’t exactly a hot bed of baseball talent so I went out and did a lot of showcases and played travel ball in the summer and everything. And I was fortunate enough to get recruited by a couple schools, with Fresno being the one that stood out in my mind as the place that I wanted to go. So when I found out that was an option, I jumped at it.
And from there, I had a blast the three years I was there. I was fortunate enough to play for a college baseball legend in Bob Bennett, which was something that was neat for me. I learned a lot from him, obviously about baseball but also how to conduct yourself as a human being and how to kind of grow up and be a man. He demanded a lot of that out of us. So from that standpoint, that was probably the best decision I ever made, to go to Fresno State and play for him.
And while there, I felt like I was going to have a chance to play pro ball and get drafted, [ultimately] got drafted – not quite as high as I maybe thought I would – but was just really excited to get the opportunity to play pro ball and see how far I could go.
Patch: When did it first become realistic to you that you actually had a shot of playing in college and in the Major Leagues?
McGehee: Well, whether anybody believed it or not, I actually felt I could from a pretty early age. That was something that was always a goal of mine and a dream of mine, and I wasn’t going to let anyone tell me that I couldn’t do it. So I guess from an early age, whether I was maybe a little overconfident or thought I was a little better than I was, I just couldn’t picture myself doing anything else.
Patch: Was there anything in particular during your career at Soquel that made that goal seem even more realistic?
McGehee: I guess sometimes going out and playing some of those teams from San Jose, and when we would get into the high school playoffs and the CCS playoffs and stuff like that, playing against some guys that had some national recognition and feeling like I could compete with them. I guess that was my first glimpse that maybe this was more than just a pipe dream.
Patch: What kind of work did you put in during high school and what was your preparation like from year to year?
McGehee: Well, I was fortunate enough that my dad was willing to put a batting cage in our backyard and we’d get up early in the morning before school and go out and hit. And then if it was light enough when he got home from work, we’d get out there and fire up the machine. I think, throughout all my years, that was probably the most beneficial thing I ever had happen to me; just having the opportunity to go out there and hit as much as I did and from a relatively early age. I started to figure out some of things that I needed to do to be successful in hitting the baseball.
Patch: Prior to being drafted, you were strictly a California guy, but you have been forced to make the move east as a professional. What’s the transition been like for you?
McGehee: It’s definitely a change of pace. My wife, kids and I actually live in Tennessee now, but Milwaukee’s great. It’s kind of a Midwest version of Santa Cruz in a way. People are pretty down-to-earth and easy going and they appreciate people that work hard. They’re not all about the glitz and glamour. They appreciate hard-nosed, blue collar guys. There are really a lot of similarities between Santa Cruz and Milwaukee, other than the weather.
Patch: How often are you back in the Santa Cruz area and how much are you still involved with the community?
McGehee: You know, I don’t get a chance to get back nearly as much as I’d like being that [my wife and I] have two small kids and it’s tough to travel. But the times I do get to go home, I love it. Every time I get back in Santa Cruz, it’s definitely a breath of fresh air, no matter how long I’ve been gone or where I’ve been. In my heart, that’s always home. When people ask me where I’m from, I’m very quick to tell them about Santa Cruz. So even though I’ve lived a lot of different places now, that’s always home for me.
Patch: Do you still have any connection at all with the Soquel baseball program?
McGehee: Not as much. Mitch Meyer was my high school coach and he’s since retired. I still stay in contact with him. A couple times a year we’ll end up talking. But after he retired, I’m probably not as up to date with what’s going on there. But every once in a while, I still get on the Internet and see how they’re doing. And one of these days, I’m hoping to be able to get back and be able to spend more time there and even go out there and help some of the kids out the way that some of the guys that were older than me came back and helped us out.
Patch: What do you remember most about your career at Soquel?
McGehee: We had a game against Santa Cruz High my senior year [in 2000], and we were trying to go undefeated in the league which hadn’t happened yet, and we had a pretty good comeback in the seventh inning of that game. That’s still, to this day, is one of the better baseball games that I’ve been a part of at any level, with the high drama, the excitement, the big rivalry. That’s probably the game that stands out most.
Other than that, we have this hill behind Soquel High’s baseball field, and there’s this little gate up there at the top, and I can remember Coach Meyer sending us up the hill if we were messing around in practice or whatever. I can remember being on that hill quite a bit.