SPRING TRAINING: Rays’ Gillaspie has sight set on Majors

SARASOTA — Casey Gillaspie always dreamed of playing in the College World Series.

With the tournament held right in his backyard in Omaha, Neb., Gillaspie spent his summers watching champions crowned waiting for the day he, too, would be there.

“We always looked forward to going to the World Series,” the Tampa Bay Rays’ prospect said. “Those were some of the funnest weeks growing up.”

One summer in particular stands out in Gillaspie’s memory. Not because of what happened on the field, but for the antics he and a group of friends pulled in the stands.

“Everyone would bring beach balls into the stadium and then throw them around,” Gillaspie recalled. “One time my friends and I snuck in something like 60 beach balls. We were sitting all across the outfield, and we said in the seventh innings – or whenever it was – we’re all going to blow them up and throw them around.

“It was pretty epic. There were 60 or 70 beach balls going around in one inning.”

Gillaspie never made it back to Omaha as a college baseball player for Wichita State University. In fact, he almost didn’t even get the chance to play Division-1 baseball.

Playing for the Shockers seemed like it was inevitable, considering older brother Conor, who is now the third baseman for the San Francisco Giants, was an All-American at WSU a few years prior. But Casey initially had other plans.

“I was actually looking for other schools to go to, but honestly, I wasn’t very highly recruited out of high school,” Gillaspie said. “I think Wichita State was my only Division-1 offer, and I really wanted to play D-1, so I took it. I kind of make jokes about it, not having any scholarship offers and not getting drafted out of high school.”

Despite being the younger brother of a future Major League Baseball player, Casey never really lived in the shadows of Conor. According to Casey, Conor was only into baseball, while baby brother played multiple sports.

It wasn’t until his time in Kansas where he heard plenty of how great his older brother was.

Even though there’s a six-year difference between the two, they still had a close relationship.

“When we were younger, he always looked after me,” Casey said. “He was a good brother. We’d always play sports in the backyard. He never took it easy on me, that’s for sure, even though the big age difference. We’re still close to this day. Growing up together was a blast.”

The Rays’ Gillaspie is having himself quite the spring, hitting three home runs with eight RBI, seven runs scored and four walks.

Entering Wednesday’s game against the Orioles, Gillaspie was tied for the team lead (Brad Miller) in at-bats with 38. This has given him a glimpse at fulfilling a bigger dream of his in playing in the major leagues.

“I kind of always had my sights set on something above college. I always wanted to play in the College World Series, but I always wanted to play pro ball, too,” Gillaspie said. “This spring has been great so far. Getting in here at the big league clubhouse with all the older guys and seeing how they go about their business, they’ve been nothing but great to me.”

Gillaspie is the team’s No. 5 prospect and Baseball America ranks him as the No. 74 prospect in the league.

The highlight of his young career came last season when he was named the Rays’ Minor League Player of the Year.

Splitting time between Double-A Montgomery (85 games) and Triple-A Durham (47 games), he combined for a .284 average with 18 home runs and 64 RBI. His 22 extra-base hits (13 doubles, two triples, seven home runs) with Durham were tied for third in the International League following the All-Star break.

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