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Baseball

Ex-Kaneland star Casey Crosby back in the game, pitching with Chicago Dogs

Casey Crosby thought he was finished with baseball.

Seven years after being drafted out of high school by the Detroit Tigers in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, the former Kaneland pitcher was out of the game following an injury-plagued career that included two elbow surgeries.

By then married with one child and another on the way, Crosby went to work at a bank and enrolled at Northern Illinois University in 2015, convinced his days on the diamond were done.

He was wrong.

When the Cubs made their run to the World Series title in 2016, Crosby got the itch again.

“I started watching baseball again and started missing it,” Crosby said. “I thought, ‘Why not see if my arm can hold up and see if I can make this work again?’

“It felt like I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, so I went for it. I’m just a guy [for whom] it’s hard for me to give up. It really takes a lot to walk away.”

Encouraged by his wife, Haley, Crosby resumed training and played for the Lincoln Saltdogs of the independent American Association in 2017. After recording a 2.16 earned-run average in 16.2 innings that year, Crosby was signed by the Minnesota Twins and pitched in their minor league system in 2018, compiling a 1-2 record in 12 games.

After being released by the Twins, Crosby had a third elbow surgery last October – but still wasn’t ready to call it quits.

So, when the Chicago Dogs came calling, Crosby answered. The Rosemont-based independent team was the perfect fit for the 6-foot-5 southpaw, who gets to stay home with Haley and their daughters, Tessa, 5, and Gemma, 3.

“I did this so I could be home with my family,” Crosby said. “Indy ball doesn’t pay very much, so if I’m not going to be paid a lot, I might as well stay home and have a normal day.

“[Haley] has been my ultimate supporter. Everything I’ve done, she’s the one who pushed me to make my comeback and keep training. I pretty much owe everything to her.”

What does Crosby have, baseball-wise?

Despite missing the first several weeks of the season with a strained left oblique, Crosby, 30, has been a valuable member of the Dogs’ bullpen. In his first seven appearances, Crosby was 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA and struck out 14 in 71/3 innings.

“He’s pitching really well now,” Dogs manager Butch Hobson said. “He has a great arm, and right now he’s got good command of that 12-to-6 breaking ball he’s got. He’s throwing 95 to 96 [mph], and his changeup is good, too.”

That kind of stuff is what prompted the Tigers to call up Crosby in 2012, when he made his only two major league appearances, going 1-1 with a 9.49 ERA. A return to the majors is a long shot, of course, but Hobson is optimistic Crosby will return to affiliated baseball.

“Had he not gotten hurt in spring training, I believe he would already have been signed by an organization,” Hobson said. “I love him. He’s a great guy and a true professional.

“He’s got a lot of energy about him. Every time he pitches, there’s a scout in the stands watching because of that arm and that experience. When he can command all of his pitches, throwing 95 to 96, there’s no reason he should be here.”

Yet Crosby is enjoying his stay with the Dogs, who have another former major leaguer in their bullpen in Carlos Zambrano. The 37-year-old former Cubs ace also is a reliever now, and Crosby relishes being teammates.

“We have a great time out there,” Crosby said. “Carlos is a great teammate and open to talking to us.

“He’s literally just one of the guys. It’s not like he has this big-league aura around him.

“He has really found himself and found God, and he’s got joy in his heart, and it’s just cool to see. ... It’s very infectious.”

Hobson said Crosby’s enthusiasm has been infectious and his perseverance a great example to his teammates.

“It’s definitely good for the younger players to see,” Hobson said. “I think it reflects on how much Casey loves the game and how much he loves to pitch, and that should be recognizable without us even talking about it, and I think it is.”

Crosby will reevaluate his career after this season. He may play winter ball in the Dominican Republic and continue pitching next year.

If not, Crosby intends to go to grad school to become a certified public accountant. He graduated from NIU in May with an accounting degree.

Accounting will give Crosby the job security that baseball does not, but he’s proud of his comeback after all the injuries.

“I look back on my career, and I don’t have any ill will,” Crosby said. “I’m just happy to still be playing in my 30s.

“The time I took off really opened my eyes up to how lucky I am to be playing baseball professionally. I’m having a great time.”

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