Casey Smith trying to make comeback

Casey Smith declared in April that his athletic career was over because of reactive arthritis, but the Indiana outfielder and former Bloomington North Star said Monday that he’s now hopeful that he can earn a spot on Indiana’s postseason roster as a pinch-hit option.

“If I can swing well enough this week in practice to show that I deserve a postseason roster spot, I can be a right-handed pinch-hitter,” Smith said.

That however, is still asking a lot from his body, which hasn’t been good to him this year.

His condition has been such that he can’t do many things well. It’s attacked his lower body and his back, so he can still throw, but it’s hard for him to run to get around and field the ball, and it’s not easy for him to hit either.

“Almost everything in turns of moving around,” Smith said when asked what it takes away from a baseball sense. “It hits my back. It hits my legs, like my push-off toe and ankle. Thank God I’m a switch-hitter so I can have somewhat of a balance. But you think about a swing, you don’t want to feel stiff when you swing. I feel stiff. That’s the thing I battled this year. That wasn’t last year at all. It hit my back for the first time this year.” 

Smith didn’t even know it was a condition he had for most of his life, but he said it’s actually a genetic disorder. He said he has the HLA-B27 gene, which can cause reactive arthritis if triggered. He said he had food poisoning his sophomore year at Indiana, which triggered it and led to a string of injuries he and his family couldn’t understand at the time but made more sense when the diagnosis of reactive arthritis was made. He suffered a foot injury in 2012 and redshirted the season. While he was redshirting, he joined the track team and threw the javelin and threw out his arm, tearing an elbow ligament and needing Tommy John surgery.

“If we looked at my medical history, I’ve been hurt since I started playing,” Smith said.  “I was like, ‘Why am I always hurt?’ I just thought I went harder than everyone. Apparently that’s not the case. I just had a condition. We found out this year what it actually was. Then when we looked back at all my medical history, it explained it all. It explained everything.”

The condition has truly become unbearable for Smith in the past year and especially this season. He said he started to feel symptoms in the summer and fall and that it got especially difficult during the strength and conditioning period.

“Some days for our agilities, I was on the sidelines rolling around because my back was hurting so bad,” Smith said.

It got worse when the season started. Smith barely practiced and it showed. After hitting .309 with five home runs and 34 RBI for last year’s College World Series team, he was hitting .182, going 10-for-55 with just one extra base hit and two RBI in 20 games.

And it was more difficult away from practice. The joints in his lower body didn’t hurt every day, but when they did, he could barely function.

“I knew something was wrong,” Smith said. “I’ve always dealt with pain, but this, it never stopped. I couldn’t go to the bathroom at home. I couldn’t get up to go turn off my lights when my lights were on at my room. I was very frustrated. I threw every pillow at the light switch trying to get it off. It got to the point where it wasn’t just on the field. It was at home. It was getting around. Class was so difficult. Thank God teachers were able to work with me, trying to get to class was just miserable. I’d wake up one day and I’d have to use crutches. The next day I wouldn’t. There was no routine. It was sporadic.”

Smith said he’s on a drug called humera, and when it works well, he can at least play through it. That’s made it at least manageable enough that the occasional postseason pinch-hit opportunity could be a possibility. But Smith said he’s still trying that out to see if he’s actually capable.

“If I can just get myself to swing a bat right-handed, to be the type of right-handed pinch-hit guy, I don’t have to feel like I have to run as fast as I can,” Smith said. “As long as I can just get myself consistently able to do something every day at practice.”

Smith, son of coach Tracy Smith, said he doesn’t want preferential treatment, however.

“I don’t want to take a guy that’s worked all year in there, his spot, if I’m only able to swing one day a week or if I have my good days and off days,” Smith said. “I wan’t to be consistent with my health. There’s gotta be performance. If I can’t hit the slider machine for example, I’m probably not deserving to be in there. I gotta be up to speed with everybody at the plate, which I think I can. I can manage that. It’s the other stuff, running the bases, playing defense. I probably can’t do that.”

If 27 is the number, Smith would appear to be fairly safe to earn a spot if he can do anything at all. The Hoosiers have had 30 players appear in games this season. Two are pitchers Kyle Hart (elbow) and Ryan Halstead (ACL) who have suffered season ending injuries. Another is pitcher Kent Williams, who has thrown all of three innings. The 27 spots would give the Hoosiers room for all nine every-day starters, the other eight position players who have at least one at-bat this year, and all 10 active pitchers who have pitched at least 10 innings this year. The other four players on the roster other than the injured and the ones who have appeared are all true freshmen, and if they haven’t appeared yet this year, it might be best to redshirt them.

But Smith the father will be watching his son closely.

“He’s going to have to have value or bring something to the table competitively to get on the roster,” Smith said. “Those spots are going to be valuable and it’s going to be competitive to make that postseason roster. … Every decision I make is in the best interest of the team. I’ve always said that even with him. If I made my batting order out with who I love the most, he’d be batting three hole every game. From a competitive standpoint, we need a right-handed bat that’s going to put a ball in play off the bench. He’s a proven guy, so I would like to see him do it from that point to bring some experience. But he’s going to have to put himself in that position. That’s not something that’s going to be given to him.”

One comment

  1. I’m really hoping this young man can get back and contribute. Based on what he’s endured to get to this point he deserves to suit up. What really impresses me is him not wanting to take another player’s spot if he can’t get the job done. Kudos to coach Smith for taking of his father’s hat, in favor of his skipper’s cap and saying that Casey will have to earn his spot. Great story Dustin. Go Hoosiers!

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