While preparing for minor league spring training with the Minnesota Twins, Delone Catholic grad Casey Lawrence trains at a hometown gym with his dad. York Dispatch
Casey Lawrence has had to work for everything he’s achieved since his pro career started 10 years ago.
So, it’s nothing new for the Delone Catholic High School graduate to stare down another seemingly impossible challenge this offseason, secure in the belief that he can make something special happen again.
The former Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners pitcher returned to the United States after he spent a season in Japan, but big-league teams didn’t deem him worthy of an invitation to major-league spring training.
So instead, the Hanover resident signed a minor-league contract with the Minnesota Twins in January, and 10 years after his career began with no calls on draft day, the 32-year-old Lawrence is ready to show he has something to offer an MLB team, again.
“Being an undrafted free agent from an (NCAA) Division III school, you’re never the No. 1 prospect,” Lawrence said. “At every level, I’ve had to go in and prove that I belong at the next level. That’s something that I think really drives me and allows me to enjoy going into work every single day with something to prove.”
Hoop dreams: The McSherrystown native originally went to Albright College in Reading to pursue a basketball future. He chose the school because it was willing to let him play basketball and baseball. After a rough freshman season, when he was going through multiple workouts daily workouts for each team, Lawrence knew he had to make a decision.
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“I don’t think I realized how difficult it was going to be, even at the Division III level,” Lawrence said. “There was no down time at all. After that freshman year, physically I was worn out and I just couldn’t do it any longer.”
He left basketball behind, and while he still loves and misses the sport, he's convinced he made the right choice.
Diamond in the rough: Following that difficult freshman year, Lawrence became captivated by baseball — a sport that was first engrained in his memory as a 2-year-old, when he pestered his mother to let him throw the ball outside.
He worked with Albright pitching coach Gary Yeager Jr., who starred at Elizabethtown College before a minor-league career with the Philadelphia Phillies. Lawrence credited Yeager with helping him become the pitcher he is.
After his junior season, Lawrence played in a league with a number of NCAA Division I players and said he held his own. That experience, which first exposed him to MLB scouts, gave him the confidence that his visions of a career in sports might come true.
“It was something, growing up, that was always in my mind — I want to be a professional athlete,” Lawrence said. “Up until then, it was just kind of a dream and then it kind of started to become a little more of a reality.”
He posted an 18-8 record and 2.81 ERA during his Albright career, but wasn’t selected in either the 2009 or 2010 MLB drafts. Six days after the 2010 draft ended, Lawrence signed with the Jays.
Lawrence spent seven grueling seasons in the minors and finally made his major league debut with Toronto in 2017. He appeared in four MLB games before the team designated him for assignment and he was claimed by the Mariners.
The 6-foot, 2-inch, 170-pounder set the Mariners’ record for strikeouts in a relief appearance with nine against the Colorado Rockies.
He made the MLB team to begin the 2018 season and appeared in 11 games while splitting time between Triple-A and the Mariners.
Transactions take toll: Lawrence’s MLB player page lists 67 transactions for his career. He said the constant change took a toll on him, but knows it’s just part of the process.
“The longer I’ve played now, the more you get used to it, but you don’t want it to happen,” said Lawrence, who has a career MLB record of 3-3 with a 6.64 ERA. “I want to go somewhere and stick. It is a grind to pack up and move (and) go from city to city and team to team. It gets old, but it’s part of it. If you can’t accept it and be willing to do it, it might not be the thing for you.”
After the 2018 season, Lawrence decided it was time to move to a different team in a new league and country. He signed a one-year contract with Hiroshima Toyo Carp in what he said was the right financial and athletic decision at the time. The Japan Times reported Lawrence’s deal was worth an estimated total of $820,000.
In 2019, Lawrence posted a 4-8 record with an 4.80 ERA. After the season, he and his agent notified teams that he was again a free agent and available to be signed by MLB teams.
The right-hander recalled that the food and culture were two of his favorite parts of the Japanese experience. One of his favorite places to hang out was a ramen restaurant, which he said put the brand famous among college kids to shame. He also enjoyed an Irish pub near him that offered a place to drink a beer, watch sports on a large TV and feel like he was back in the states.
Back to MLB: The Twins were the first team to offer him a deal, but Lawrence and his agent tried to find a spot with a major-league spring invite. Once it was clear one wasn’t available, Lawrence decided to go with the team that reached out initially, intent on proving he belongs.
“Not having a major league invite kind of hurts a little bit,” Lawrence said. “I have the ability to get it done, it’s just about going out there, trusting your stuff and competing. Once you can accept that and get over the fact that you’re in minor-league camp, go out and give it your best and hopefully somebody will see you (and) will get you to the next step.”
While he plans on eventually getting into a second career in baseball, either coaching or in the front office, Lawrence isn’t ready to hang up his cleats anytime soon. The desire to compete and the adrenaline rush he feels when he steps on the mound has a hold over him.
“As long as somebody is going to keep giving me a jersey and giving me a paycheck to do it, I don’t see myself (retiring)” Lawrence said. “I think I may be different than some guys. Maybe they have a number that they say, ‘If I can make this much money then I can step away from the game.’ Maybe they don’t truly love the game, but I truly love going out there, being with my teammates (and) working to get better. The process of it is something I think brings me back day in and day out.”
As he sets out to prove that he belongs in the majors, and tries to achieve his ultimate goal of winning the World Series with the Twins, Lawrence is proud of what he's achieved, but his focus is on showing that he has more left to give a team.
“All along, my faith never wavered from being an MLB player,“ Lawrence said. “As I sit here today, I would say I accomplished that goal, but I feel like I have a lot more to prove. But, also being able to sit here and say I’ve been able to play baseball for 10 years is a nice feeling. It’s nice to say I’ve accomplished that goal, but I think there’s just so much more that I can accomplish out there.”
Reach Rob Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org.