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Why Giants were an obvious fit for newest catcher Casali

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Curt Casali was a groomsman in Mike Yastrzemski's wedding and roomed with him last spring. He went to the same school as Tyler Beede and Sam Selman, got to know Gabe Kapler and Evan Longoria in Tampa Bay, and caught Kevin Gausman and Anthony DeSclafani in Cincinnati, where he grew close with Giants hitting coach Donnie Ecker. Casali even talked to Buster Posey as both recovered from similar hip surgeries. 

Oh, and because this is recruiting in 2021 ... 

"I've also just randomly been playing Call of Duty with Steven Duggar for a while now," Casali said on a Zoom call Tuesday.

In retrospect, we should have seen the Casali addition coming all along. Farhan Zaidi has said from the start of the offseason that he wants a veteran to come in and play behind Posey so Joey Bart can get more reps in the minors and Casali was the perfect fit. He has some power and is coming off a strong year, having posted a .366 OBP and .500 slugging percentage in 2020.

He has a reputation as a great clubhouse guy and is known as a good defender, rating well above average in the pitch-framing metrics that are so important to this new staff. 

The fit was a good one for the Giants and also for Casali, who was born in Walnut Creek but moved around often as a child. After a few years in Atlanta and Los Angeles, the family settled in Connecticut. 

"I claim Connecticut as the place where I grew up just because it's the place where I hit puberty," Casali said, laughing. "It's a pretty important time in your life."

 

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From there it was on to Vanderbilt, where Casali found himself hosting a young recruit trying to follow in the footsteps of a grandfather in the Hall of Fame. The two formed a bond that has gotten grown over the years, and each was involved in the other's wedding.

Casali faced Yastrzemski in the minors and always had the same question Giants fans have had while watching the breakthrough over the last two years: What were the Orioles thinking? 

"I don't think there's a really great word to describe how happy I was or how proud I am of him, just because of all the crap that he had to deal with in the early stages of his career," Casali said. "I was with him in Florida (for spring training) when I was with Tampa and he was with Baltimore. I would see him all the time, we played against each other in the minors. He was always a good player then."

Casali said he leaned heavily on Yastrzemski during the offseason but tried not to involve too many others in case he ended up elsewhere. The Giants have had this deal in place for a while, and on Monday they finally announced the $1.5 million pact that should make Casali the early-season backup for Posey.

The two had a brief conversation in the batter's box in 2018 about hip surgery -- Casali had both sides operated on in back-to-back years -- and Posey was at Oracle Park when Casali came in for his physical. 

This time, perhaps the conversation turned to what they can accomplish together. Posey has talked glowingly of the three new hitting coaches, and that's one reason the Giants are optimistic about what Posey can accomplish after a year off. Casali knows better than most what it's like working with Ecker, and said him being in San Francisco had a "huge" impact on his decision. 

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"I'm really, really looking forward to getting my second dose of Donnie Ecker," Casali said. 

Ecker challenged Casali in ways he had never experienced, making him hit left-handed during BP and do work with weighted balls and visualization to mix things up and keep the training interesting. Now he'll be another familiar face ready to welcome a player who seemed destined to end up in San Francisco this offseason.

"I was looking for something where I didn't have to completely start over," Casali said. "That's not to say I ignored other opportunities, but this one from the very beginning felt right in my gut, and I definitely make a lot of my life decisions and baseball decisions based on my gut feeling. This one, it was churning me towards the West Coast."