By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
MANCHESTER, New Hampshire – Earning the call up to the Fisher Cats bullpen was a homecoming of sorts for Andrew Case.
The 24-year-old right-hander had been to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester, and even stayed in the Hilton Garden Inn hotel in left field previously, before he knew that the double-A squad was an affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, and long before Case signed with the organization as an undrafted free agent in the fall of 2013.
Just over five hours from home for Case – Saint John, New Brunswick – the Fisher Cats are the second-closest professional baseball team, after the Boston Red Sox double-A affiliate, the Portland Sea Dogs, about one hour closer. Manchester was a destination for Case as a young member of his province’s Selects team, during a time when he could only dream of one day returning.
“It’s crazy being here because growing up, we came here,” Case said. “Seeing the outfield hotel, I’ve stayed in there. Travelling to New Hampshire playing with the New Brunswick Selects, we would come and catch a Fisher Cats game, and obviously it was always a dream to get to play here.
“Even when I was in Dunedin [playing for the class-A Advanced Blue Jays], we played in Kissimmee, and it was the same field I went to my first spring training to as a kid, and now I’ve played on it, and now I’m here. It’s all happened so quick. It’s surreal, but amazing.”
Case broke camp out of spring training this year with the class-A Lansing Lugnuts, returning to the Midwest League for the third time. Before the season opened, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound reliever was promoted to Dunedin, where he posted a 4.42 ERA in 14 games over 18 1/3 innings, walking three, striking out 17 and earning four saves.
Just six weeks into the season in the Florida State League, the Canadian hurler was informed he would be on the move again, heading as close to home as he’s ever been.
“I’m enjoying every minute,” Case said. “Obviously it wasn’t a bad feeling going back to repeat a level, and you’re not disappointed in yourself, you’re just disappointed in the situation. But I did the best I could do, and without even throwing a ball in Lansing I was promoted.
“Then in Dunedin, I tried to be the best to my ability, throw the ball well and get better every day, and now I’m here in New Hampshire hoping to do the same thing, throw the ball every day, get better every day, and do whatever I can to help the team win.”
Upon his arrival in Manchester, Case was reunited with Halifax, Nova Scotia native Vince Horsman, the pitching coach for the Fisher Cats, who was happy to welcome a player from his own neck of the woods north of the border.
“Andrew’s good,” Horsman said. “He’s the typical eastern Canadian kid and I love it. I like the way he pitches…At the end of the day, you can either get people out or you can’t, and he’s a guy who has a knack for getting people out. That’s what I had heard about him, that he’s a bulldog out there and he’s not going to back down from a challenge. So far, he’s true to form.”
Added Case: “We have our east coast talks a lot. Even though [Horsman] lives in Florida now, he’s two hours away from home. We talk about it all the time. It’s good to have an east coast coach along the way, and he said congratulations when I got here.”
So far for the Fisher Cats, Case has notched a team-leading three wins in five appearances, posting a 0.87 ERA over 10 1/3 innings, walking two, fanning three, and holding opponents to a .158 average. The sample size of double-A time he’s had has already been more than he ever could have imagined, and he’s just getting started.
“When I was at [Tournament 12, a Blue Jays-hosted event for young Canadian prospects] and signed and I was brought to extended [spring training], I didn’t even know what extended was,” Case said of how far he’s come. “From extended, I was trying to be the best I could be to break with Vancouver [the club’s short-season affiliate] because that was the best option, but I didn’t know in extended you could also get brought to Lansing or higher throughout the year.
“I didn’t know how it worked. I was new to the system and just grateful for the opportunity, so I took every day in extended like it was my last day, played with no regrets and left the field happy. I broke to Vancouver, and saw all the older guys on the New Hampshire roster like Kevin Pillar, and now they’re in the big leagues. Now, look at me, I’m here.
“It’s not like I’ve made it, but I’ve made it further than I ever would have thought in the years before. I’m grateful and I’ve got to build on it, and just take every day and get better every day. You have to take every day like it’s your last and make sure you’re doing everything you can to make yourself better.”
The righty’s first outing came a couple days after he had joined the team, getting a chance to settle in before taking the mound. Even with the time to adjust – and making the move from Dunedin to Manchester with catcher Danny Jansen, promoted simultaneously – he still felt some anxiety in his double-A debut, in which he allowed just one hit over 1 1/3 scoreless frames against the Trenton Thunder.
“There were nerves,” Case said. “I was nervous, but excited. As soon as I threw the first pitch – it happened to be a strike, which settled the nerves really well – I was like, I can do it. It’s just another game. You’ve got to slow the game down between the lines. That’s what I’ve learned, jumping team to team in the system, you’ve got to slow the game down and take it one pitch at a time, one hitter at a time, and you’ve got eight other players on the field to help you.”
Though the game is the same, and the hurler’s excitement is likely to die down at least a little bit as the season continues, Case has found a feel in New Hampshire unlike any he’s ever had before, and can’t wait for what the future brings.
“Honestly, double-A is a little bit different than Dunedin,” he said. “From here, you’re only one call away. There are so many veterans and older guys in triple-A, but there’s a chance you’re one call away. It could happen just like that.
“Jansen and I looked at each other in the airport and said, ‘Dude, we’re going to double-A. Not many people get the opportunity to say that. I’m grateful to be a part of the Blue Jays organization where they have that trust in me that they can send me here, and tell me to pitch to the best of my ability and give every team I play on a chance to win.”
Feeling the love from his home province, Case and the Fisher Cats will be hosting roughly 60 of his family members in a couple of weeks, when they make the trek from Saint John. On top of visits from his mom and dad, Kathy and Jade McDermott – who have moved to Mississauga, Ont., in recent years – he has felt an overwhelming amount of support from people all over New Brunswick, and couldn’t be more appreciative.
“People keep an eye all the time,” Case said. “It does make me nervous, and proud, but more so happy that I have the support. Up or down, I have a bad game or I have a good game, they’re still right behind me and trying to push me as a fan group to be the best I can be. And having the support of them, my family, all behind me, it means a lot. Being from New Brunswick and having all of New Brunswick behind me is a pretty meaningful thing. It’s amazing.”