LANSING, Mich. – Andrew Case was always a baseball player, even when he wasn’t.
It wasn’t long ago that the 22-year-old right-hander took some time away from the game thinking he was done, and had to try to figure out what was going to be the next step. Case just was underwhelmed at the idea of school – especially after a bad experience at junior college – and with his first taste of the real world, he didn’t think he was quite cut out for that life either.
Case was a product of the Prairie Baseball Academy Dawgs program, while attending Lethbridge College and but it was his glimpse of a post-secondary education with the Garden City Community College Broncbusters in Kansas that took him out of the game, however temporarily.
“I’m not a big school guy, as everyone knows,” the righty said. “The people weren’t friendly to me at all. And I’m not saying that everyone has to be buddy-buddy, but the personalities down there were not [compatible with] mine. It was a tough, tough transition for me.”
Baseball wasn’t fun anymore. Case went home to Saint John, NB, ready for anything else. But he quickly realized that not playing wasn’t the most fun he’d ever had either.
“I missed baseball a lot,” he said. “Especially with the work reality. It’s good seeing friends and family every day, but going back to the work grind and the real world, I said, ‘I need to play baseball again and get as far as I can go.’ Then I emailed coach [Todd] Hubka at Prairie Baseball Academy and the next thing I know I was out there in the fall.”
Case asked the coach if he could possibly try out for the varsity team at the PBA in Lethbridge, Alta., and Hubka was happy to have him. As it turned out, the time the hurler spent away from the mound had done him well.
“I went from [throwing] 82 miles an hour at junior college, took a year off, and my first day at PBA I hit 90,” Case said. “I had no idea where that came from … I turned out to be the No. 1 starter on the varsity team, and I’m here now.”
From the Lethbridge Bulls roster of the Western Major Baseball League, Case joined Team Maritimes at the inaugural Tournament 12, a showcase hosted by the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. There, he hit 92 and impressed scouts with nine innings of scoreless baseball over two appearances with 19 strikeouts, his squad also coming away with the tournament championship. He was signed by scout Jamie Lehman and the Blue Jays just days after the event ended and is now in his second professional season.
Last year, the young pitcher posted a 2.45 ERA over 24 games and 44 innings for the Vancouver Canadians, adding 13 walks, 37 strikeouts, and a 1.16 WHIP. For the majority of the Northwest League season he was the lone Canadian on the roster, before Peterborough, Ont.’s Mike Reeves joined the club during their playoff run, and Case embraced every moment.
“I was turning some heads, absolutely,” he said. “I know people didn’t know much of me when I [signed with the Blue Jays] and they sent me to Vancouver. Even though I was the only Canadian, I don’t think that mattered too much, if my outcomes and my outings were unbelievable.
“At my exit meeting, they said the same thing, that I turned more heads than anyone thought I would, and to just keep going. That made me feel good.”
Case adjusted to pro ball much more easily than he did the college life, though the experience certainly opened his eyes to a whole new world.
“The publicity, the people who see you differently,” he said. “You’re a professional now and people see you differently. Little kids look up to you, and that’s pretty cool … In Vancouver, [there was] the local media, my success, the fans, the people in the bullpen, everyone knowing that I was Canadian, being Canadian and playing in Canada. It was amazing.”
Case was the last man added to the Lansing Lugnuts roster out of spring training with Toronto. Before earning his promotion to the Midwest League, the righty had come to terms with the fact that he was going to be staying at extended spring training and would have to work his way out of Vancouver this season.
“My emotions were down actually, when I knew I was staying there [in Florida],” Case said. “But I took what the coaches said, ‘If you don’t like it, play better,’ and that’s my mentality. I just wanted to get back on the mound and prove the point that I should be there. So I did it and it worked out and I’m happy …
“The last couple days I actually still didn’t think I was coming. Then I went in the clubhouse one day and my name was changed. From there on out, I had a different mentality for the last couple days of spring. I’m happy to be here and start another year on the right foot, where I want to be.”
So far for the Lugnuts, Case has come out of the bullpen four times and allowed four runs over 7 2/3 frames, with one walk and four strikeouts. He’s looking to carry over the success he found last year, and keep on going.
“I just want to be me again,” he said. “Just throw strikes and let them hit it. Don’t be scared of the hitters and hopefully move up the ladder … starting in Lansing and hopefully I will progress well. I’m hoping to maybe make it to Dunedin mid-season or during the playoffs. Or if Lansing is out and Vancouver needs me for a spot in the bullpen for playoffs, I’m more than happy to go back at that time.”