Inside The Dugout With #35 Michael Casper

            With today’s busy schedules, it’s no surprise that most college students find it hard to get everything done, let alone those who throw in extracurricular activities. Yet somehow, pitcher Michael Casper manages to play Division I baseball while working towards his degree in architectural engineering at Princeton University. In case you’re wondering how he manages to do it all, the answer is the obvious one. “I don’t sleep,” Casper says. He laughs looking back at the past school year as he recalls getting four hours of sleep a night trying to fit everything into his schedule. Despite the inevitable complications arising from trying to do it all, Casper wouldn’t change a thing because he’s getting to do what he loves both on and off the field.

            Like most little kids, Casper started out by building things out of Legos, but his architectural dreams didn’t stop there. Watching his grandfather fix things around the house gave Casper the inspiration to help out and from there, he started trying to build things on his own. Now, he’s pursuing his dream of becoming a skyscraper designer, even if it’s not as easy as it seems. Still, Casper’s enjoying his coursework so far, particularly his physics class. “The class is a nightmare but there’s a lot of cool stuff involved,” Casper said. From getting to use with a magnet that’s “half the size of a baseball dugout” to playing yo-yo with a piece of metal, Casper’s having fun in the classroom, even if his path to Princeton wasn’t the most traditional.

            His journey to Division I baseball began at Stanford baseball camp where “I talked to coaches but there was no heavy interest,” Casper said. After getting cut from the district team in the prestigious Area Codes tryouts, Casper was picked up by another team that was run by his pitching coach and made his way to Long Beach, Calif. for another shot. There, the former Monte Vista athlete saw a player from rival high school San Ramon Valley High interested in Princeton, and reached out to the coach himself; after getting invited on an official visit, Casper committed before even beginning his senior year. That didn’t mean he was automatically in, however; Casper still had to be accepted based on his entire application but that was far from a problem, and he enrolled in the class of 2015 later that year.  

            A typical California kid, Casper seems like a fish out of water at Princeton. Though he gets laughed at when wearing Vans sneakers and he has given in to societal pressure by buying his first pair of Sperry Topsiders, Casper’s biggest adjustment has been the weather. His first running test of the season saw temperatures around 47 degrees, and when he has to lift early in the morning, Casper bikes from his dorm wearing ski gear and sunglasses, even if there’s no snow on the ground. But he’s also seen the opposite side of things, when he traveled to Australia with the team and got the opportunity to play in the heat against teams from the Australian Baseball League. Still, he’s glad to be spending the summer close to home with the Neptune Beach Pearl in Alameda, only a short distance from where he lives. After spending his first season at Princeton rehabbing his elbow, Casper’s enjoying the ability to get back out on the field and pitch again, while getting to have fun on his home turf.

            As a pitcher, Casper definitely stands out. “Lefthanders tend to have a stereotype that we’re awkward and uncoordinated,” Casper said. “Being blonde, tall and a lefty gives me an awkward reputation, and I am a little uncoordinated.” The 6’6” southpaw from Alamo, Calif. is easily visible on the field or in the dugout, where he towers over the rest of his teammates. Yet he’s far from an intimidating figure off the field; in the dugout, he loves to crack jokes, both at himself and at his teammates, particularly those within earshot. The self-processed “gamer” can be found talking about his interest in PC games and shows like Game of Thrones, as well as sharing his food. “You always have to bring food,” Casper said, “because you will always be hungry.” As he was trying to eat, several of his teammates wandered over to steal some of his snacks – which Casper obliged with after teasing them to make sure they asked nicely first. His naturally open and playful personality makes him a fun guy to be around in the dugout as everyone is trying to stay loose and have a good time, with Casper always willing to chime with his thoughts.

            The part of the game that Casper knows best is the life of the bullpen pitcher. “When you play once a week, for the rest of the games, especially summer, you have to find something to do,” Casper said. His favorites include stopwatch baseball, step baseball and seed-spitting – all of which keep him entertained, provided the coaches don’t notice.

            Like most baseball players, Casper has a series of superstitions that help him stay calm and that bring him luck. “I always wear a necklace on an old silver Italian chain I found in my Grandpa’s attic when I was little,” Casper said. His charm used to be an old arrowhead but after losing it last summer, Casper switched to a replica of the Mayan calendar, which has so far held up to being lucky. As a pitcher, he finds what he wears to be a big deal in terms of bringing him luck. When on the mound, Casper has a few tricks to keep himself in the zone. “I always pick up the ball with my glove hand and flip it to the other,” Casper said. Before he throws his first pitch, Casper does three drags across the rubber with his foot to adjust the mound. A quirk that Casper picked up this year from his travels with the Princeton team has him collecting baseballs from the different leagues he faces. “It’s a fun thing to do, especially as a freshman when you don’t get to do anything else,” Casper said. So far, his collection includes the Patriot League, the ACC and the SEC and he is looking to add more over the next few years.

            Despite the challenges from both, Casper has found ways to marry his love for logic and his passion for the game. “I did a project over last summer for an Applied Mathematical Modeling class,” Casper said. “I took all of the stats from the top 50 pitchers and put it into an analytical melting pot.” He created a correlation graph that compared ERA with other pitching statistics to determine which statistics were the most relevant. His findings were somewhat obvious – strikes versus walks was the biggest indicator in determining ERA – but he was surprised to discover that WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Innings Pitched), a statistics that records a pitcher’s ability to prevent batters from reaching base, also played a big role. The most satisfying part of his project was the direct aftereffects. “I explained my findings to a group of engineers, people who didn’t even really know what baseball was, and they were able to understand things like the importance of walks and strikeouts,” Casper said. While his interest in math might not seem like a logical fit with his baseball career, Casper manages to combine the two to give him a better understanding of the game he loves.

            While his interests may not seem like they lend themselves to baseball naturally, Casper has found a way to do it all and have fun at the same time. His “geek” status makes him a great fit for the game and his ability to process both baseball and logic help him get a unique take on the sport he loves. Tall, blonde and slightly uncoordinated might be accurate adjectives to describe Casper, but his description isn’t complete without a few more – like talented, hardworking, and fun-loving.

 You can meet Michael Casper and the rest of the 2012 Neptune Beach Pearl at the 1st annual Meet the Pearl Auction Dinner Fundraiser on July 14th and the Grand View Pavilion. Download the attachment below for more information!

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