SILER CITY — For the last three years, Casey Golden has spent his summers traveling and playing baseball games at a breakneck pace all across the country, from Grand Junction, Colorado, to …
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SILER CITY — For the last three years, Casey Golden has spent his summers traveling and playing baseball games at a breakneck pace all across the country, from Grand Junction, Colorado, to Asheville to Lancaster, California.
Such is the life of the minor leaguer.
But this summer, his home base is, well, his actual home.
Golden, a former Jordan-Matthews and UNC-Wilmington baseball player, has been living with his family in Siler City since mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic canceled the second half of his spring training with the Colorado Rockies. On June 30, Minor League Baseball’s season was canceled in full.
With his steady rise in the Rockies’ farm system on hold — Golden has moved from rookie league to Class A to Class A-Advanced the last three seasons — life has been an adjustment for the 25-year-old.
Golden has substituted live at-bats for late-night hitting sessions at a local batting cage with his younger brother, Trevor. And instead of trying to draw intentional walks at the plate, he’s now taking them with his two dogs: 8-year-old beagle Lucy and 4-month-old Labrador mix Ruby.
“It’s definitely not the routine I’m used to, but I’ve had to adapt,” he said. “I’m used to playing 25 to 27 games in 30 days. Now I’m not playing at all.”
The first couple of months, he said, were “definitely the weirdest.” Golden had a productive offseason and was bumped up to the Rockies’ spring training roster on Feb. 29. At camp in Arizona, he said he was “feeling good” about his progress in the first two weeks — and excited for some in-game opportunities.
They never came.
MLB canceled the remainder of spring training on March 12 in reaction to COVID-19, and teams dispersed promptly. Golden said the Rockies organization was “hands on” and very helpful.
“This thing hit, and it really hit,” he said. “We knew about it. We probably left the complex within 48 hours. It happened really fast.”
Thankfully for Golden, his North Carolina ties made his next few days easy. One of his friends and former teammates, Robbie Thorburn, still owns a house in Wilmington. Golden and other UNCW baseball alums spend offseason time there, working out in the Seahawks’ facilities, and use it as a launch point of sorts.
“We know that we’re going to pack it up in mid-February, spend a few weeks back in our hometown with our family before spring training, then we won’t be back at that house until October,” Golden said. “So that was already planned ahead. My stuff was already back in Siler.”
All he needed to haul back home to Chatham County was the suitcase he took to spring training.
His weeks are now full of Zoom meetings with everyone from athletic trainers to strength and conditioning coordinators to hitting and outfield coaches.
“There’s definitely a schedule,” he said, “but instead of in-person meetings, you’re doing everything virtually. It’s a change of pace. You have to stay awake for some sessions of it.”
But Golden’s quick to add “it’s all valuable information.” He’s embraced the challenge of staying in shape and up to speed in an environment that relies heavily on him, as an individual, to maintain it.
Lots of his work has come at The Factory, a batting cage facility in downtown Siler City that also has a full gym and space for throwing and fielding exercises. The owner, Reggie Allred, reached out to Casey and his brother Trevor, a rising senior who plays baseball, basketball and soccer at Chatham Charter, to offer full access.
“They were great to us,” Golden said.
Back in North Carolina, Golden’s also found time to reminisce on his four years at Jordan-Matthews and UNC-Wilmington — two stints he’ll always look back on with fond memories.
With the Jets, he was a four-time all-conference selection from 2010 to 2013 and hit .584 as a senior, the same year he was named team MVP and an all-state selection.
With the Seahawks, he was again a four-year starter and saved his best for last. As a senior in 2017, he batted .310, hit 21 home runs and was named the Colonial Athletic Association’s player of the year. The Rockies drafted him in the 20th round that spring.
The only negative? His 21 homers tied a single-season record at UNCW, as did the 40 career home runs he left the team with.
“I had a home run called foul that year,” Golden said with a laugh. “It wasn’t foul, but I don’t want to talk about it.”
A 6-foot-2 righty currently playing in left field, he’s picked up a few honors in the Rockies organization, too. He was the 2018 South Atlantic League MVP for the Asheville Tourists and a 2019 midseason all-star for the Lancaster JetHawks.
“You have to enjoy it,” Golden said. “(Playing pro baseball) was a lifelong dream. The ultimate dream hasn’t come true yet but I’m checking the boxes slowly.”
At home, he’s doesn’t have many complaints either — his biggest issue is having to sleep in the same room as Ruby, the family’s new and often restless puppy.
But more quality time with his siblings, his parents and his nieces have been a welcome addition. Three weekends ago, as the family celebrated Father’s Day, Golden realized it was the first time he’d physically been there for the event in six or seven years.
Coronavirus-induced cancellations and all, he still had to smile.
“It’s kind of been a blessing in disguise,” Golden said.