Vine Line: Coleman born to pitch
Pitching may run in family, but mom, Maddux helped in success
When Casey Coleman made his Cubs debut on Aug. 2 versus Milwaukee, his family made history.
Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, Coleman became a third-generation big leaguer. And though the Boone and Hairston families also had three eras of Major League players, the Coleman clan is the first such group to be all pitchers.
Casey's father, Joseph (Joe) Howard Coleman, played from 1965-79 with the Washington Senators, Detroit Tigers, Oakland Athletics, Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates. He also spent 1976 with the Cubs, going 2-8 in 39 games, a blemish on his 142-135 career mark that went along with a 3.70 ERA.
Casey's grandfather, Joseph Patrick Coleman, pitched in the big leagues from 1942-55 with the Philadelphia Athletics, Baltimore Orioles and Tigers and posted a record of 52-76 in 10 seasons. He died in Fort Myers, Fla., in 1997.
He might have been just 10 when Grandpa Joseph passed away, but you can bet Casey already was playing baseball.
"As soon as he could find a glove that could fit him," said Joe Coleman, who served as the pitching coach last season for the Detroit Tigers' Class A affiliate in Lakeland, Fla. "He was always able to pitch since he was a good athlete. He always liked to hit. He was always a middle infielder, as well."
Surprisingly, it wasn't Joe who primarily nurtured Casey's baseball acumen and honed his skills. His mother, Donna, played a large part in Casey's development.
Joe met Donna in 1982, soon after he moved to Fort Myers to take care of his parents. Donna -- who played racquetball and softball, and once rode her bike from Fort Myers to Los Angeles-was Casey's youth coach for several years while her husband coached pro ball.
"She was the first woman in Southwest Florida to have her own all-star baseball team," Joe said proudly. "She was given the AAU Coach of the Year Award before 1,800 people up in Orlando. She has always been a tremendous athlete. We put our heads together and did as good a job as we possibly could. She was able to take off with it. I was in a supportive role."
Donna now is the head softball coach at Mariner High School in Cape Coral, Fla., Casey's alma mater.
"I think I was 7 or 8 when she started coaching. She coached me all the way through Little League; it was great," Casey said. "It was funny to see the faces of male coaches after they got beat."
The elder Coleman also spent several years as the pitching coach for the Durham Bulls in the Tampa Bay Rays farm system and once held the same position for the St. Louis Cardinals. Casey grew up following Joe around the ballpark and seemed predestined to be a pro.
Drafted by the Cubs in the 15th round out of Florida Gulf Coast University in 2008, Casey began this year as the No. 25 prospect in the Chicago system, according to Baseball America. He was named the Cubs' Minor-League Pitcher of the Year in 2009, when he went 14-6 with Tennessee in the Double-A Southern League. In 2010, he was 10-7 with a 4.07 ERA in 20 starts for Triple-A Iowa before being called up Aug. 2.
It wasn't the most auspicious debut, as Coleman came on in relief and gave up six earned runs in 2.1 innings against Milwaukee. Eventually, Coleman was moved out of the bullpen and into the rotation, where he flourished.
His first win as a Cub came against the Nationals in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 23. It was the same city in which his father, who played in Washington from 1965-70, got his first Major League win.
"My dad was in Lakeland, and I called him right after the game," Casey said. "He called me again and said he only had two hours of sleep since he was so excited. He wanted me to go out there and stay focused."
Indeed, Coleman found comfort in the rotation, and the results were evident down the stretch. His last four starts were all "quality starts," in which he went at least six innings and gave up no more than three runs, and he posted wins in his last three starts. On Oct. 1, Coleman shut out the Astros, giving up just six hits and walking one.
"He's been excellent; he's done a heck of a job," said manager Mike Quade.
"I don't know how many people knew who Casey Coleman was eight or nine weeks ago. He's got a special place in my heart because they know who he is now."
Coleman told reporters the added confidence from winning games has helped him.
"It sets you up knowing you can pitch [in the Majors]," Casey said.
For Joe Coleman, he's happy his son's part of the Cubs organization, even if his own organization, the Tigers, didn't think much of Casey.
"I talked to people in our organization who really liked [Casey]," Joe Coleman said. "One of our [Tigers] scouts dumped on him. That is what I heard. I don't know who it was, and I don't care. I saw [Cubs director of scouting] Tim Wilken in Clearwater, Florida, and he had such a big smile on his face. That was the first time I saw Tim since Casey's first start. Casey is right where he should be."
Casey finished 2010 with a 4-2 record and a 4.11 ERA in 12 games. Eight of those appearances were starts, and his strong finish made him an early favorite to win a slot in the Cubs' 2011 starting rotation.
Teammate Tyler Colvin, a fellow rookie, was impressed with Coleman.
"He has poise," Colvin said the day after that win in Washington.
Combined, the three Colemans have won 196 Major League games.
"Casey has to get four more wins to get to 200 [as a family] because it certainly won't be me," Joe said with a laugh.
Winning "200" for the family is a goal Casey expects to reach. And he said he looked forward to winning on a regular basis with Quade.
"'Q' is energetic," Casey said. "He gives that energy, and you feed off that."
During the last weekend of the season, Coleman spoke with Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who reinforced the 23-year-old's confidence.
"I am not going to do anything different," Coleman said. "I am still one of the young guys there. You have to approach things the same way. Larry said to approach spring training as if you are going in to win a job."
During spring training 2010, one particular future Hall of Famer liked what he saw and decided to take Coleman under his wing.
"Greg Maddux talked to me a lot about what hitters look for and what pitches to throw in certain counts," Coleman said of the Cubs' special assistant. "In spring training, during my first simulated game, I threw my first inning and did well. Made a few bad pitches, and Greg came over to talk to me about some of them. The next inning I did really well, and he was talking to me some more. Greg told me what that hitter likes to do, so this is the pitch you should throw him and in what count and then what would happen if I pitched him that way.
"I did exactly what Greg told me and sure enough, it all happened exactly like he said it would. It ended up being a strikeout."
During his pro career, Coleman often has been compared to Maddux, in terms of style, pitch repertoire and physique.
"Yeah, I've heard that a lot," Coleman said. "It's just interesting to hear things from his perspective. But I can use that as a goal -- to reach his level someday."
In that sense, Cubs fans can only hope history repeats itself.
David Driver is a contributor to Vine Line. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.