NEW BRITAIN - Entering the season, Casey Coleman found himself at a crossroad and starting over.
After stints with the Chicago Cubs (2010-2012) and the Kansas City Royals (2014), the 29-year-old spent the last two seasons in the minors, including stops in the Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners organizations last year. A free agent as 2017 was set to begin and with nothing materializing with major league clubs or their minor-league affiliates, Coleman inked a contract with the New Britain Bees - his first venture into independent baseball.
But it was not that the Bees sent four pitchers back to affiliated ball last season that made Coleman want to come to New Britain, it was the team’s manager Stan Cliburn and the familiarity the pitcher had with him through his family.
“My dad and Stan know each other from way back in the day and my dad couldn’t say enough good things about Stan,” Coleman said. “He’s like ‘you’ll love playing for him and he’s one of the best baseball guys. He has so many connections and he’ll be your ticket back to pro ball,’ so it was easy for me. I talked to Stan and an hour later I was signed here. It’s been great. He treats us like men, like professionals and that’s what you need to get out of here.”
As he waits for an opportunity, so far, the early results have been good for both Coleman and his new team.
Through two starts, Coleman is 0-1 with a 2.61 ERA, seven strikeouts and two walks in 10 1/3 innings of work. After an up and down first start that saw him give up four runs - three earned - in just 4 1/3 innings, Coleman came out and pitched six shutout innings on Thursday night against the Lancaster Barnstormers.
“Casey is just fun to watch pitch,” Cliburn said. “Here’s a guy that comes in and says, ‘give me the ball and let me go.’ When you have guys like that, you always like your chances in games.”
Numbers aside, it has been a transition for Coleman. Not it terms of going from playing in the major leagues or affiliated ball to the Atlantic League, but from a reliever to a starter where it can be like learning a new position all over again. To aid in the switch, Coleman went down to Mexico for winter ball.
“I’ve been a reliever for the past five years and transitioning back to starting, there were a lot of fixes I needed to be made in my approach,” Coleman said. “The first game, I obviously excited and was throwing like a reliever, trying to strike everyone out, overthrowing. [Thursday] I was able to calm down and use my sinker early and get early outs and use my better stuff later in the game when I needed it.
“So that’s been the biggest thing is having faith in my stuff to throw whatever you want when you want and just establishing strikes early.”
There are also a number of veteran pitchers such as Jonathan Pettibone, Brandon League and Joe Beimel in the Bees clubhouse that Coleman can not only relate to in terms of MLB experience, but can bounce ideas off of and develop his own game along with way.
“I know sometimes in the lower minor leagues guys compete against each other in a bad way and don’t wish people do good, but here we’re all experienced and feed off each other,” Coleman said. “Pettibone comes in and picks me up after a bad outing and then he goes out there and dominates with his fastball and then everyone else behind him is inspired to do just as good.
“You just feed off each other, especially with guys here like League and Beimel in the back end. You can learn so many different things. There’s so many little things you can pick up on and may change your career and help you get back into pro ball.”
How long Coleman stays in New Britain remains to be seen, but for right now, the Bees are certainly happy to have the veteran starting over in their uniform.
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @DavidGlovach