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Pirates Sean Casey, Upper St. Clair native, makes himself right at home

Tuesday, April 10, 2001

By Paul Meyer, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Sean Casey couldn't wait to get a glimpse of PNC Park late yesterday morning. A few hours later, PNC Park had seen quite enough of the Cincinnati first baseman.

Cincinnati Reds, Sean Casey was the first WPIAL product to bat, had the first hit, first RBI(s) and first home run. Casey is an Upper St. Clair High School graduate. (John Heller, Post-Gazette)

Casey, from Upper St. Clair, had quite the homecoming in the Reds' 8-2 victory against the Pirates yesterday. He got the first hit, the first home run and the first RBI at PNC Park. And he also had the first four-hit, five-RBI game at PNC Park.

"That was really special," Casey said. "This was just another game for everybody else, but it was a special game for me."

Cincinnati third base coach Ron Oester can relate. Oester grew up in Cincinnati and played for the Reds.

"This has to be special for him," Oester said. "Any time you have a good game in your hometown, it's neat. But, golly, this was opening day in the new park. This has got to be great for him."

And unusual.

In 63 career at-bats at Three Rivers Stadium, Casey had only 11 hits.

Maybe, however, he has the hang of this homecoming stuff now.

Yesterday, he hit a two-run home run in the first inning, singled in the fourth, singled in a run in the sixth and doubled in two runs in the ninth.

"I wish he hadn't showed up," Pirate Manager Lloyd McClendon said -- somewhat good-naturedly.

Casey's day didn't start well, though.

"My mom woke me up at 8:30 and said she'd seen on the news that Willie Stargell had died," Casey said. "That's not the greatest news to wake up to."

Not for a kid who grew up here and adored Stargell.

"He brought a lot of joy to this city," Casey said. "All of us, as kids, did that windmill swing in Whiffle Ball. He's in a better place now. It's kind of ironic he passed away on the day they opened this stadium.

"He's a hero. He's a legend in Pittsburgh. It's sad. It's definitely a sad day in baseball, in the sports community but definitely in Pittsburgh. He's a legend."

Michael Wilmer, 40, of Point Breeze holds the first home run ball hit in PNC Park in a regular season game. Wilmer, who said he was offered $1,000 for the ball, said he hasn't decided what to do with it. (Kurt Weber, Post-Gazette)

In addition to Stargell's passing, the other downer for Casey yesterday was that he didn't get the ball he hit for the home run in the first inning.

The ball soared into the stands and bounced back onto the field, but Pirates center fielder Adrian Brown threw it back into the stands.

Casey asked Cincinnati center fielder Michael Tucker to barter for the ball with the fan, using a Ken Griffey Jr.-autographed ball as bait.

No go.

"I told 'Griff' if that didn't work, I'd be back for a [Griffey Jr.] bat," Casey said. "I was kind of using 'Griff' as collateral."

Casey still doesn't have the ball.

"Some fan has a nice souvenir," he said.

Casey got his chance to get the first hit at PNC Park after Pirates starter Todd Ritchie hit Dmitri Young with a pitch with two outs.

"When Dmitri got hit, I thought it would be pretty neat to get the first hit in PNC Park," Casey said. "I wasn't thinking about getting the first home run. If I'd tried to hit a home run, I'd have probably grounded to first base."

Casey sent a 1-0 pitch deep into Section 142 above right-center field.

"I was running around the bases thinking, 'That's awesome!' " Casey said. "I was excited. My family was here. It was just great."

Casey's single through a drawn-in infield in the sixth drove in Tucker with what proved to be the deciding run. And his two-run double in the ninth removed all doubt about the outcome of the first game at PNC Park.

Which Casey likes, by the way.

"Great! Unbelievable! Way better than I expected." Casey said moments after he stepped from the dugout yesterday morning. "I'd seen pictures in the Post-Gazette, but this is unbelievable! That skyline looks like a painting.

"This is great. It's way beyond what I'd imagined. I grew up going to games at Three Rivers, which was a cookie-cutter [stadium]. But this is ... this has to be the nicest park in the big leagues! Of course, I'm from Pittsburgh, so I think it's the nicest.

"A lot of guys don't want to come to Pittsburgh, but I think they'll want to come here now."

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