Union alumnus Brady Whalen spent all of two days at the St. Louis Cardinals’ spring training facility in Florida before the baseball season was abruptly put on pause as COVID-19 cancelled sporting events nationwide for the foreseeable future.
“I flew in, woke up and had my physical,” Whalen explained. “By the time my physical was done, there were already rumors that it was getting shut down.”
Not everyone’s seasons were so unusually short. But for five Clark County ballplayers pursuing big-league dreams, baseball’s stoppage has put a unique wrench in their plans.
Despite the season’s uncertainty, Skyview’s Ian Hamilton (Chicago White Sox), Union’s Brady and Seaver Whalen (Tampa Bay Rays), Camas’ Taylor Williams (Seattle Mariners) and King’s Way Christian’s Damon Casetta-Stubbs (Mariners) are trying to keep a positive outlook on 2020.
Following Major League Baseball’s cancelation announcement on March 12, Brady Whalen promptly returned home to his parents’ house in Ridgefield. His brother, Seaver, joined him a month later after staying in Florida with teammate Brent Honeywell in case the season returned quicker than expected.
“I was so ready this year,” said Seaver, who made one plate appearance with the big-league club in Spring Training. He hit a flyout to left field.
In Peoria, Ariz., the Seattle Mariners had several meetings with players about the possibility of a shutdown. When Casetta-Stubbs returned to the facility shortly after one of the meetings, everyone was packing up their gear.
“They broke the news that everyone was going home,” said Casetta-Stubbs, who returned to his family’s home in Vancouver. “It was definitely a shock.”
In the same camp, Williams also noted the confusion that persisted.
“It hit kind of fast,” Williams said. “Nowadays, less people keep up with current events so I don’t think a lot of people knew the extent of what was going on.”
Williams didn’t have to go far to return home. He married his wife, Ariana, in November and recently bought a house in Arizona.
“It’s weird being home this time of year for a lot of the baseball guys,” Williams said. “But it’s been really good for me and my wife to have the opportunity to spend time together and just experience our new house together.”
Players said they are receiving a small weekly stipend from their organizations during the downtime.
“Anything helps,” said Hamilton, who noted his pay is roughly $400 per week during the pandemic. “I’ll take whatever they give.”
Rearing to go
Now at home, players have had to get creative to prepare for the 2020 season, should there be one. Major League Baseball has hinted at the possibility of returning to play in isolation — in Arizona and Florida or some combination thereof.
That means there’s no days off for those looking to take the next step.
“It’s like a second offseason,” Seaver Whalen said. “If you had any regrets this last offseason, anything you wanted to do more, it’s a second opportunity to look in the mirror.”
With the Whalen brothers now under the same roof, there’s a competitive energy in the household. Along with some fiery family wiffleball, the two have a home gym set up in a barn on the property. They’ve also tried to get on fields when they can, even if it means hopping a fence or two.
“We’re still practicing social distancing, but I have to get my work in,” Brady Whalen said. “If someone wants to kick me off while I’m trying to pursue my dream, I’m OK with that.”
Hamilton, who is staying in an apartment in Arizona, doesn’t have the same problems getting on a field. The White Sox facility in Phoenix remains open and some of the organization’s top arms, including Dallas Keuchel and Carlos Rodon, were working out there as of last week.
Hamilton is taking advantage of the opportunity to impress.
“It’s easy to stay in a good routine when you’re here,” said Hamilton, who missed most of last season with a pair of injuries. He first injured his shoulder in a car accident and then was struck in the face by a foul ball while sitting in the dugout. “I’m showing I’m still working and ready to go when the season comes back.”
Home gyms, of course, vary in scope and quality. Casetta-Stubbs’ best tool is a brick wall at an elementary school near his house.
“I’ve thrown to brick walls more than anyone else probably in the entire world,” Casetta-Stubbs said. “I have this tunnel vision and I’m not deterring from my plan.”
On the field, all five prospects are hopeful for their future.
Taylor Williams is in a new organization. After getting designated for assignment by the Milwaukee Brewers, the Mariners claimed the Camas native.
“It was a dream come true,” Williams said. “My mom actually cried she was so excited. It’s cool to be a part of an organization you worshipped growing up.”
After earning a nod to the Northwest League All-Star game last season as a member of the Everett AquaSox, Casetta-Stubbs anticipated he was going to rejoin long-season Class A West Virginia Power for the 2020 campaign.
“I learned a ton last season,” Casetta-Stubbs said of his first full season in the minors. “You go through a lot of things. You fail a lot physically and mentally. Baseball beats you down every single day and you have to make your start five days later.”
Brady Whalen, too, earned an all-star selection last season, representing the Midwest League’s Peoria Chiefs. The 22-year-old expects to be playing for the high-A Palm Beach Cardinals should the season return.
“This year was such a big one for me,” Brady Whalen said. “Once you get to high-A, you’re knocking on the door to the big leagues. When you’re 18, 19, 20, it’s more about development. Now at 22, it’s time to make a run at it.”
Seaver Whalen, 25, had a chance to make the Class AA Montgomery Biscuits out of spring training. The pandemic has done little to dissuade him from his ultimate goal of making the majors.
“I have the mindset that if I have a jersey on, it means I’m a big-leaguer,” Seaver said. “If there’s day that comes when that jersey comes off, I can hang my hat on the fact that I did everything I could.”
Hamilton was looking forward to getting back to the success he had in the majors in 2018, when he threw eight innings for the White Sox. Back then, he was throwing 101 mph.
“The first pitch I threw in a game this spring was 97; I was very happy with that,” Hamilton said. “The guy smacked it over the fence but it was still 97.”
All five were still awaiting word from their organizations on whether or not baseball would return in 2020 and what that might look like. For many in the sport, it’s their longest hiatus without playing in a competitive game.
“I think it will feel different when we get back,” Brady Whalen said. “I’ll definitely be more thankful. I’ve never sat back and realized how much I appreciate the sport.”
High school: King’s Way Christian (2018)
Organization: Seattle Mariners
Position: Starting pitcher
2019 stats: 6-8, 5.17 ERA in 26 appearances in Class low-A, A and high-A
Projected 2020 team: West Virginia Power (A)
High school: Skyview (2013)
Organization: Chicago White Sox
Position: Relief pitcher
2019 stats: 0-2, 9.92 ERA in 16 appearances in AAA
Projected 2020 team: Chicago White Sox (MLB)
High school: Union (2016)
Organization: St. Louis Cardinals
2019 stats: .248 batting average, 7 HR, 81 RBI in 121 games in Class A
Projected 2020 team: Palm Beach Cardinals (High-A)
High school: Union (2013)
Organization: Tampa Bay Rays
2019 stats: .224 batting average, 7 HR, 38 RBI in 100 games in Class A and high-A
Projected 2020 team: Montgomery Biscuits (AA)
High school: Camas (2010)
Organization: Seattle Mariners
Position: Relief pitcher
2019 stats: 1-1, 9.82 ERA in 10 appearances for Milwaukee Brewers
Projected 2020 team: Tacoma Rainiers (AAA)