Baseball ties Hayden Hurst and Bengals coach TE Casey
When the call came this time, he stayed. Casey went to the fifth round of the NFL with the hometown Texans and stayed in the league for seven years. Hurst was a first-round pick of the Ravens and is now on his third team in his fifth year on a one-year contract. But for a guy who walked to South Carolina at 22, he’s used to crucial football seasons.
“It’s crazy with so many similarities,” Casey says. “There’s a connection to the guys who played minor league baseball. It’s hard to explain. Just being on buses everywhere. The (little) locker rooms. Being there during spring training extended. It’s fun to talk about. Now we’re trying to set up the offense, but we can tell a lot of stories.”
They can also talk about how they have this in common.
“Baseball players are so different from football players. Baseball players are weird. They’re different,” Hurst says. “Everyone always told me I was a football player playing baseball. I didn’t believe them until I finally made the switch. My personality, I think I’m more intense.”
Casey had people telling him that too. A quarterback in high school, they said he was an on-the-mound football player. During batting practice, he would cross the outfield to hit flies. He often thought that if he had been a positional player he might have had a better shot.
But it wasn’t for not trying. After his stint with the minors, Casey slugged freelance in 2006 for 34 more innings, but there was just no getting around 109 walks in 145 1/3 innings.
Casey’s lack of control wasn’t as dramatic as what happened in Hurst’s well-documented struggles with the yips. Hurst could stand on the mound for just 1/3 innings with the Pittsburgh affiliate in the Gulf Coast League in 2013, where he walked all five batters with two wild pitches. From there it was a long bullpen session and intrasquad game. In 2014, he offered the front office a try at first base and designated hitter. He hit .245 in 53 at bats before turning to football.
“I didn’t like it,” Hurst says. “The lack of throwing success robbed me of the joy. I was pretty much done. I had never been away from home, I was 18 and I wasn’t making the best decisions on and off. ground.”
Hurst’s struggle with control led to deeper issues, and his courageous battle with alcohol, drugs and depression became one of the country’s most compelling success stories of the past decade. When he had dinner with Casey during free agency in March and began to realize the connection, his phrase “God works in mysterious ways” resonated again.