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Teammates take college lessons to Cotuit

08/03/2010 2:58 PM

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COTUIT ----- Coming from a top-quality SEC baseball program that consistently sends more players to the Cape Cod Baseball League each summer than any other school, Vanderbilt teammates Curt Casali and Michael Yastrzemski were well prepared to play in Cotuit.

     “We run a tight ship at Vanderbilt,” said Casali, a two-year veteran on the Cape, thanks to a stint last summer with the Hyannis Harbor Hawks. “Some of the practice strategies that we have really prepare us for a wood bat game. We take our job very seriously at Vanderbilt, and I feel like Vanderbilt prepares us well.”

     Casali attributed their success on the Cape to a focus on the bunting and running game, fielding ground balls, and turning double plays, which Casali and Yastrzemski have worked on with Cotuit field manager Mike Roberts.

     “It’s huge in this league, just because it’s a lot more ground balls, and you can get yourself out of innings easier and quicker,” he said.

     Casali, a junior, was released earlier in the season after spending a few weeks on the bench nursing an injury, but during his time in Cotuit he was a positive influence to his younger Commodore teammate, encouraging the freshman Yastrzemski, who is the grandson of Hall-of-Famer Carl Yastrzemski. 

     “It’s been fun even though he’s been hurt,” Yastrzemski said. “It’s someone to go to when you’re struggling and you know you can talk. It’s a lot easier.”

     Yastrzemski was unhappy with his at-bats early in the season as he adjusted to the wood and the tougher level of play. But he has developed during the summer. From hitting a grand slam against Chatham earlier this week to stealing 13 bases, he has proven himself a top player, thanks in large part to the mental game that Vanderbilt prepared him to tackle.

     “It’s tough knowing everyone’s averages are going to be close to 100 points lower than normal,” he said. “And it’s just tough to play against all these kids who are eventually going to be getting drafted and going places. The whole attitude and mental side of the game, that’s probably the hardest thing that people have trouble doing and what I took from school.”

     Vanderbilt sent 10 players to the Cape this summer. In addition to Casali and Yastrzemski, there is Keenan Kolinsky (Cotuit), West Division All-Star Garvin Grayson (Bourne), Riley Reynolds and East Division All-Star Aaron Westlake (Chatham), Jack Armstrong (Wareham), and Will Clinard, Jason Esposito, and Joe Loftus (Orleans). Esposito accepted an invitation to play with Team USA mid-season, while Kolinsky is a new addition to bolster the Kettleers’ rotation as the playoffs approach.

     “Every third or fourth day you get to play against one of your teammates from school,” Casali said. “It’s fun. If it’s a pitcher, then you kind of know exactly what they’re going to try to do, because you’re exposed to them a lot at school. But with hitters, it’s a little different because the wood bat changes it a bit.”

     With the season winding down, they look to take their lessons from the Cape back to Nashville. For Casali, he’ll take Roberts’ tips on his swing. 

     “He’s been teaching me to use my legs more,” he said. “He’s been very helpful for me personally. For Yaz, he was not a great base stealer at school, and working with Roberts has not only made his swing more sound, but his running game has improved a lot, too.”

     Said Yastrzemski: “Anything that progresses me as a player, I’m just going to try to bring it back into my spring season.”