ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 06/07/2011
By Bob Elliottt
LANSING, Mich. _ All their schools weren’t in the NCAA field of 64 leading to the College World Series in Omaha.
Yet on a team which has players from four-year schools like Texas A@M University, Cal-State Northridge, Gonzaga and George Mason, plus junior college powerhouses like Chipola, Southern Nevada and San Jacinto, the Lansing Lugnuts ran right-hander Casey Lawrence Wednesday night.
Lawrence pitched in college for the mighty Albright College Lions, a NCAA Division III school.
What was the name of your school again?
“That’s what everyone asks?” Lawrence says with a laugh. “No one has heard of it.”
And where is it located?
“Smalltown, USA,” as he laughs again.
Lawrence went undrafted from the Reading, Penn. United Methodist school (enrollment 2,400) in 2009.
Lawrence went undrafted in 2010.
Jays scout Bobby Gandolfo signed him a week after the draft as a free agent.
In 31 appearances in his first two years of pro ball, he’s 13-10, with a 3.31 ERA, walking 28 and striking out 119 in 155 innings.
He won’t be on the cover of Baseball America’s prospect guide next year, but he’s plugging along.
You won’t see his signing bonus listed anywhere either.
“I signed for nothing,” Lawrence said.
How small was your bonus?
“Nothing,” Lawrence said. “I had 10 or 12 teams talk to me during my senior year, I told them all the same thing.”
All the Albright Lion wanted was a chance.
He has one.
Last year he started in the bullpen at class-A Auburn, pitched well enough to move into the rotation, earned a New York-Penn League all-star game berth and was promoted to Lansing. This season he made a spot start at class-A Dunedin, beating his favorite team’s Florida State team affiliate, the Tampa Yankees. Lawrence pitched six innings allowing two runs on two hits in a 10-5 win.
He earns roughly the same as outfielder Jake Marisnick, given a $1 million US signing bonus, or K.C. Hobson, who received a $500,000 bonus. Class-A salaries are $1,200-to-$1,300 a month (from April 7 until Sept. 5) depending upon how many years a players has been in the organization.
There are some curious turns in baseball, how a friend of a friend ... or the base ump’s brother-in-law calls a scout.
Albright is not regular coverage for Jays scouts.
However, Gary Yeager was Lawrence’s pitching coach at Albright. Yeager called Tom Burns, the Jays current regional crosschecker. Burns had scouted Yeager in 1995, pitching at Elizabethtown College.
After being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies, pitching four years and reaching triple-A Yeager returned to coaching and called Burns in the spring of 2010 saying he thought “Casey was worth a look.” Burns knew the man. Respected his opinion. Burns told Gandolfo, who signed Lawrence.
Gandolfo scouted for the Jays from 2010-2013 drafting Danny Barnes (35th round in 2010), Tim Mayza (12th in 2013). All three could end up in the big leagues which would be a feat to get three players that late in the draft. Scouting director Briab Parker fired Gandolfo.
At 6-foot-2, Lawrence wears No. 37, the same number Dave Stieb wore.
As a four-year starter for the Lions, the McSherrystown, Penn. native was the school’s all-time, career strikeout leader with 251, leading Albright to the Commonwealth Conference tournament in 2008-09. Not bad for a guy who chose Albright so he could play hoops as a shooting guard and pitch.
After going undrafted, he headed to Orlando for a vacation returning Sunday to pitch for the Brushtown Bullogs (a town of about 400) against Cashtown in a Southern Pennsylvania League.
The next day he signed and had a plane ticket to Tampa.
“I was supposed to golf that night with my father, Wayne, he was pretty disappointed when I told him that I couldn’t,” Lawrence said, “He asked ‘why not, what’s wrong?’
“Well, I have this plane ticket ...”
And Casey Lawrence’s journey began.
Sometimes on the mound he can hear the lyrics from Eminem’s Cinderella Man ...
“You know technically,
“I’m not even really supposed to be here right now,
“Might as well make the most of it.”
Lawrence has been doing that.