Here is Nancy Haggerty’s report from her visit with Tappan Zee:
His coach at Tappan Zee describes him as “monstrous.”
That’s a compliment. A spot-on compliment.
Eric Casey (pictured to the right) stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 270 pounds.
You might think linebacker. You might think lineman. You might think but you’d be wrong, twice.
“My mom never wanted me to play (football). “She was afraid I’d get hurt – or hurt someone else,” Casey said Tuesday.
These days the only thing he hurts are baseballs.
Casey’s a Tappan Zee Dutchman, who fans hope will become Mr. Clutchman.
He can throw (he’ll be one of Tappan Zee’s starters this year and had a 2.80 ERA in 20 innings last year) but it’s his bat that’s intriguing.
The Dutchmen played in Florida last year at the Atlanta Braves’ spring home, Champion Stadium. Casey hit a walk-off double to beat Byram Hills, a ball that smacked the centerfield wall, 400 feet from home plate.
Call it a Cracker Jack shot in honor of the venue’s former name.
“It was a great feeling, especially because it guaranteed the win. It was good to show that hard work pays off,” Casey said.
Casey, who plays first when not pitching, was a bit smaller last year. So, this year? Well, maybe the ball would rocket over the wall, or at least put a dent in it.
Last season, he led Tappan Zee with 12 walks and six doubles. He didn’t homer but that could change, although he’s really a line drive hitter.
Coach Mark Stanford considers last year – Casey’s first on varsity – a learning experience.
The senior, who struck out 11 times in 54 plate appearances, is looking for more consistency.
“I felt I faded during the playoffs. I want to get stronger as the year goes on,” he said.
What he learned from last year?
“Every day is a new day. Always be focused. Every at-bat is a new at-bat.”
Stanford likes his team, which went 14-9 last year.
And what is not to like?
Besides Casey, there’s junior Chris Monaco. The only earned runs he gave up last year were in his first start (three earned runs in five innings) against Beacon. Then he shut the door – and locked it.
Striking out 33 in 32 innings and holding hitters to a collective .116 batting average, he was 4-1 by season’s end, with a get-out-the-microscope earned run average of 0.66.
“You don’t see that very often – especially from a sophomore,” Stanford says.
But Monaco isn’t a typical young hurler. His stuff is so good that D-I Virginia Tech has already reached out and Monaco has verbally committed to it.
The Hokies were one of 30-40 teams that scouted him, figures Monaco, who attended a baseball camp at Virginia Tech last summer.
Monaco showed coaches there four pitches – an 88-mph fastball, hard curve, change and – wait for it – knuckler.
His cousin taught him the knuckleball when he was 10. He can throw it Tim Wakefield-like but prefers to throw it harder, like R.A. Dickey.
Despite his youth, throws all four of his pitches “with confidence,” Stanford said.
It might have been a fleeting lack of confidence that produced the only hiccup in Monaco’s otherwise flawless 2012.
Of not allowing an earned run after the Beacon game, Monaco said Beacon – his first varsity start – got all his “shakiness out.”
“(After that game,) I wanted to prove what type of pitcher I was,” he said.
Damned good would seem to be the answer to that, although Monaco says he wants to reduce that miniscule 0.66 ERA this season.
Watch for the Dutchmen to turn into the Flying Dutchmen this spring.
“We’re going to be aggressive,” Stanford says.
He’s hoping Tim Ehardt (pictured to the left) sets the table, getting on base early and often.
Stanford calls his senior outfielder probably his team’s “smartest, most aggressive” runner.
He’s not as fast as, say, Brett Gardner. Heck, he may not even be the fastest player on his own team.
But he just knows when to run. Think a slower Gardner with maybe a little more horse sense to run earlier in the count.
His decision to take off on the base paths against Ardsley in last year’s sectional win led to the game’s first run.
Ehdert had eight steals last year, second on the team to the now-graduated Brendan Kraemer (14).
His nine hits last year included two doubles. Probably multiple those this year.
But don’t expect Ehdert’s doubles to look like Casey’s. Casey isn’t about to turn singles into doubles or doubles into triples.
“That’s not something that’s really going to happen,” Sanford said, joking that the team doesn’t even keep a triples stat column for its lumbering hitter.
Tappan Zee will head to Florida next week during school spring break. But with the break coming early this year, the games it plays will count only as scrimmages since the Section 1 season will not have officially started.
The Dutchmen will play seven scrimmages in six days.
The date means the Braves will still be in town, meaning TZ will play on other fields in the same complex.
Monaco, who says he’d like to become a team leader this season, says the big thing the Dutchmen get out of Florida is “just bonding as a team.”
Stanford and his fellow coaches are expected to make cuts Wednesday. Tuesday, he tried to prepare those who won’t be on varsity, noting that cut players would be told what they should work on.
TZ wants what every team wants, a section title. It got one in 2011 and Monaco figures its pitching depth can get it another.
The righty said Mike Woulf and southpaw Chris DeCicco have been throwing well.
Stanford and assistant Dave Pollack both played for TZ league champion teams (Pollack in ‘82 and Stanford in ‘84).
Those were Tappan Zee baseball’s last league champions until the 2011 team leapfrogged past that.
File photos from The Journal News