With a memorable first week back in the big leagues, Marlins third baseman Casey McGehee said he has received an outpouring of love from people he hadn’t spoken to in quite a while.
He said his father put a smile on his face last Tuesday when he sent him a photo of the front page of their hometown newspaper in California, which took note of McGehee’s bases-clearing double on Opening Day with a front-page story.
“I guess there were more people pulling for me than I even realized,” McGehee said.
McGehee, 31, definitely has one of those feel-good, comeback tales attached to him.
In 2010, he seemed destined to be an All-Star after hitting .285 with 23 homers and 104 RBI on a Brewers team that would go on to win the NL Central the following season. But after a disappointing 2011 season in which he hit .223 with 13 homers and 67 RBI, the Brewers traded him to Pittsburgh in December.
That was the start of a five-city, three-year journey. McGehee, his wife Sarah, 3-year-old daughter Cooper, and 7-year-old son Mack, who has cerebral palsy, went as far off as Sendai, Japan, before finally landing here in South Florida shortly before Christmas.
The experience left McGehee — who signed a one-year, $1.1 million deal with incentives — humble and appreciative of the opportunity he now has.
He has responded with as good a first week as any by a new Marlin ever, batting .375 with five extra-base hits and 10 RBI (tying Jorge Cantu for the team record for the most RBI by a new arrival through six games). Skipper Mike Redmond has been batting McGehee in the cleanup spot behind Giancarlo Stanton, a role shared by nine Marlins last year with little success.
“We talked about if they are going to pitch around Giancarlo, which they will do at times, the way to eliminate some of that is for the guys behind him to get big hits and drive in runs,” Redmond said. “Casey’s been able to do that.”
Outside of a handful of invitation to compete for a bench spot, McGehee didn’t have any MLB teams willing to guarantee him spot on a roster as an everyday player in 2013. That’s before he ran into an old friend at the winter meetings who was a scout for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japanese League.
Longing to prove he could still be productive, McGehee moved his family 6,437 miles east — to a city that was at the epicenter of the magnitude 9.0-earthquake and tsunami that killed 19,000 and left hundreds of thousands homeless in March 2011. Aside from living in a country still recovering from such devastation, there was a language barrier and special needs for their son that needed to be addressed.
The facilities for Mack didn’t measure up to what was available in the United States, but McGehee said he and his family settled in and made it work.
“Everything was a battle at first,” McGehee said. “But the people were great. Ninety-nine percent of them bent over backward to try and help you.
“Being able to spend time at a children’s hospital for kids with special needs about an hour outside of the city was really the part that struck me. Language barrier or not, it was good for not only us, but for [Mack] to see there are other people dealing with the same types of things. I think there’s a lot to be learned, especially from kids with disabilities — just how much someone can persevere.”
McGehee, meanwhile, resurrected his career in Japan, batting .292 with 93 RBI and a team-leading 28 home runs. With major-league veteran Andruw Jones, and new Yankees $155 million pitcher Masahiro Tanaka as teammates, McGehee helped lead the Eagles to their first Japan Series title ever, winning a thrilling seven-game series against the 22-time champion Yomiuri Giants.
“The night that we won we went out and hung out around town pretty much all night,” McGehee said. “The amount of people who came up to us — crying, wanting to take pictures, thank us — with the tsunami and everything, it was just really cool to be a part of.”
Now, the opportunity to reestablish himself as an every-day major-leaguer and take care of his family has come. Third base has been a revolving door for the Marlins since Miguel Cabrera was traded in 2007. Twenty different Marlins have made a start their since.
With 2013 first-round pick Colin Moran waiting in the wings, McGehee knows better than to get comfortable. His baseball journey has taught him that.
“The one thing I’m going to try and take with me is to not to get too wrapped up in the small moments,” McGehee said. “I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. ... Nothing is permanent, good or bad.”
• Marlins ace Jose Fernandez (2-0, 0.71 ERA, 17 K, 2 BB) was named co-National League Player of the Week along with Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon on Monday.
• Tuesday: Marlins RHP Henderson Alvarez (0-1, 9.00 ERA) at Washington Nationals LHP Gio Gonzalez (1-0, 1.50), 7:05 p.m., Nationals Park.
• Wednesday: Marlins RHP Jacob Turner (0-0, 7.50) at Nationals RHP Jordan Zimmermann (0-0, 1.80), 7:05 p.m., Nationals Park.