Casali ‘shed a tear' for Giants return, wanted to go out on his terms

Casali ‘shed a tear' for Giants return, wanted to go out on his terms originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO -- During his two years as a Giant, Curt Casali was a popular subject for the photoshops cooked up by Abe Silvestri, the organization's senior director of team operations. When Casali returned Wednesday, Silvestri was ready. In Casali's locker was a small poster for the movie "American Reunion" with his face photoshopped into the mix.

The Giants brought back their former backup catcher, filling at least one need on a roster that seems to spring new leaks every game. Casali went right into the lineup, in part because he's already familiar with starter Logan Webb and in part because there's little doubt he's the Giants' best defensive option while Patrick Bailey is sidelined.

Casali, a Giant in 2021 and 2022, struggled with the Cincinnati Reds last season and over the winter he had to deal with a reality that hits all players at some point. The 35-year-old started thinking about life after catching, and it wouldn't have taken much for him to catch on with a front office or coaching staff. Like a lot of longtime catchers, Casali has "future manager" written all over him.

But he didn't want to hang it up quite yet and the Chicago Cubs gave him a chance to go to Triple-A Iowa. With an opt-out in his contract this week, Casali became an attractive option for the Giants. He played Tuesday night in a Triple-A game in Syracuse, New York, and afterward he got a text telling him to pack his bags.

"I think I probably shed a tear," Casali said. "Coming back here is like coming home. I had some of the best years of my professional baseball life here, some of the best friends are still here. Not many people get to do it again. I'm just very, very thankful."

Casali was bummed to be traded in 2022, but he kept in touch with former teammates and Giants staffers and admitted Wednesday that he still followed along closely this season. He knew that coming back was a possibility after Tom Murphy got hurt, and when Bailey returned to the concussion IL on Tuesday, the Giants really found themselves in a bind.

Blake Sabol and Jakson Reetz made up the catching duo for the first two games of this series, but Sabol still is relatively raw defensively and Reetz had a pair of very rough at-bats on Monday.

The Giants are unsure when they'll get Bailey back, as his concussion symptoms have lingered. Murphy was put on the 60-day IL, meaning he'll be out until at least July. Casali fills a huge need as a trusted defender and game-caller. It's an added bonus that his OPS in Triple-A was over 1.000.

"I didn't feel like being told I was done. I'd rather go out on my own terms," Casali said of playing this season. "The universe is funny. If you get a chance, take it. Fortunately I was playing well enough to force somebody's hand, and again I'm just thankful that I'm not ready for that (next) phase of my life yet."

Manager Bob Melvin said he has always admired Casali from the other side and noted that he's someone who commands respect and will help Giants pitchers stay on the same page.

"A lot of the things that you want from that position, he does very well," Melvin said. "I know our guys, especially the ones who have been around him before, are excited about him being here."

The clubhouse staff hit Casali with a confetti shower when he walked in -- "it scared the absolute piss out of me," he said -- and plenty of former teammates came over for hugs. Mike Yastrzemski, one of Casali's close friends, was well ahead in the information department. Casali waited up until the game on Tuesday ended in San Francisco so he could connect with Yastrzemski, who responded with a text containing a series of excited expletives.

Casali is hitting ninth Wednesday and will catch Webb for the 18th time in his career. The rest of this starting staff will be new to him, but he has caught a few of the relievers, and it shouldn't take long for him to get up to speed. Casali wanted to hit the ground running, and even with a long flight Wednesday, he told Melvin he was ready to roll.

"It's been a long day for him, and I said, 'You all right?' He said, 'Are you kidding me? It's the big leagues,'" Melvin said. "I've had younger kids with two-hour flights that are like, 'Oh my god, I can't believe how tired I am.' So, it's the right frame of mind, and he's a catcher. We like catchers."

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