Teammates for a season, opponents for about an hour.
Bowling Green teammates Casey Gillaspie and Jace Conrad are preparing for that role reversal on Tuesday.
The Hot Rods first and second basemen, respectively, will go head-to-head in the Home Run Derby that precedes the Midwest League All-Star Game at Peoria’s Dozer Park, scheduled for 7 p.m. on American Sports Network.
“I just hope Casey doesn’t show me up completely, ” said Conrad, who’s had a front-row view of his slugging teammates league-leading 16 home runs while batting third in front of the team’s cleanup hitter. “This guy is the real deal. I’ve been pitched a lot different this year with him in the lineup behind me. Casey hit a home run ball a couple weeks ago that was an absolute blast. I still don’t think that ball’s come down yet.”
Indeed, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound power hitting Gillaspie is off to a torrid start in his fist full season of professional ball. Through 61 games he’s batted .275 with 10 doubles, a league-leading 16 home runs and 122 goal bases. He’s also already racked up 44 RBI, which ranks third in the league.
“Having home-run power is just something that’s always been a part of my game,” said Gillaspie, a 22-year-old, first-round pick (20th overall) by the Tampa Bay Rays last year out of Wichita State.
In his professional debut last year, Gillaspie led the New York-Penn League in walks and tied for fourth in RBI. A natural right-hander, he started to work on being a switch hitter when he was 8.
Of course, baseball runs in the family. Casey’s older brother, Conor Gillaspie, was the San Francisco Giants first-round selection (37th overall) in the 2008 draft, and now plays infield for the Chicago White Sox. Their father Mark was an All-American outfielder at Mississippi State. He later became an 11th-round draft selection by the San Diego Padres in 1981 and spent eight seasons in the minor leagues.
Both Conor and Casey were standouts at Millard North High School in Omaha, Neb. They each went on to play at Wichita State before becoming first-round draft picks. Grounded, polite and respectful, Casey is proud of how hard he’s worked to reach the professional level.
“We were just raised to respect the game and play the right way,” Gillaspie said. “If you put your work in, success will come. Just put your head down and only try to control what you can control. The rest just works its way out.”
Conrad’s path hasn’t been as celebrated, yet the a 5-11, 195-pound, 22-year-old has enjoyed his own solid start this season. He’s batting .292 with 11 doubles, 10 home runs and 30 RBI through 59 games. Conrad has also amassed 21 stolen bases, having been caught just four times in 25 attempts.
Conrad’s home run total is tied for fifth among league leaders, but Conrad’s game centers around speed and getting on base, as his stolen bases are tied for fourth best in the MWL.
“I love hitting home runs, but that’s really not my forte,” said Conrad, who was selected by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 13th round of the last year’s draft out of Louisiana-Lafayette. “Stealing bases is absolutely one of my favorite things to do. It’s a skill I work on a lot in the off season. I’ll have my buddies come out with me and stand on the mound pretending like they’re about to throw a pitch. As soon as they lift their leg, I’m off running. With my team now, they don’t tell me when to steal. It’s a calculated risk I take on my own.’
Conrad has his own claim to baseball fame. In 2005, his little league team reached the semi-finals of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
“At the beginning of the season, we were just a regular Little League team that only our moms and dads paid attention to,” Conrad said. “But we kept winning and winning. Soon, the whole town was behind us. Suddenly, we’re 13 years old and we’re doing all kinds of newspaper and television interviews. It was such a whirlwind.”
The way Lafayette lost in the LLWS semifinals still remains a touchy subject for Conrad.
“I threw a 1-hitter, but we still lost,” said Conrad, whose father was the team’s coach. “I still blame my dad for that loss. I’m facing the best hitter on Hawaii’s team, a guy we identified as a really good hitter and talked about being careful with. Yet, my dad calls for a fastball. I was thinking we should with a change up or something like that. But he calls for the heat. I’d walked the kid ahead of him and and then I gave up the game-winning home run. I was crushed.”
The newspaper articles and other tokens from Williamsport are stored away in a box that hasn’t been touched in years. Conrad joked that maybe he’ll finally be over the loss by the time he has kids and digs out the box’s contents to show them. Or, maybe not.
Topping his slugging buddy Gillaspie in Tuesday’s Midwest League All-Star Home Run Derby might help ease some of that disappointment.
Above: Bowling Green’s Casey Gillaspie, who leads the Midwest League with 16 home runs this season, will go head-to-head with teammate Jace Conrad in the All-Star Home Run Derby. (Photos courtesy Joshua Lindsey)
EASTERN DIVISION ALL-STARS
|Cael Brockmeyer||C||South Bend||CHC|
|Jace Conrad||2B||Bowling Green||TB|
|Zach Shepherd||3B||West Michigan||DET|
|Gleyber Torres||SS||South Bend||CHC|
|Charcer Burks||OF||South Bend||CHC|
|Michael Gerber||OF||West Michigan||DET|
|Nick Ciuffo||C||Bowling Green||TB|
|Casey Gillaspie||INF||Bowling Green||TB|
|Michael Ahmed||INF||Great Lakes||LAD|
|Claudio Bautista||INF||Lake County||CLE|
|Grant Kay||INF||Bowling Green||TB|
|Coty Blanchard||INF||Bowling Green||TB|
|Nick Torres||OF||Fort Wayne||SD|
|Brent Honeywell||P||Bowling Green||TB|
|Hunter Wood||P||Bowling Green||TB|
|Chris Pike||P||Bowling Green||TB|
|Thomas Dorminy||P||Fort Wayne||SD|
|J.D. Underwood||P||Great Lakes||LAD|
|Grant Holmes||P||Great Lakes||LAD|
|Justus Sheffield||P||Lake County||CLE|
|James Farris||P||South Bend||CHC|
|Jeremy Null||P||South Bend||CHC|
|Joe Jimenez||P||West Michigan||DET|
|Spencer Turnbull||P||West Michigan||DET|
|Shaun Larkin||Manager||Lake County||CLE|
|Steve Karsay||Pitching Coach||Lake County||CLE|
|Larry Day||Hitting Coach||Lake County||CLE|
|Matthew Beauregard||Trainer||Lake County||CLE|
WESTERN DIVISION ALL-STARS
|Jacob Nottingham||C||Quad Cities||HOU|
|Trey Vavra||1B||Cedar Rapids||MIN|
|Mott Hyde||2B||Quad Cities||HOU|
|Nick Tanielu||3B||Quad Cities||HOU|
|Colin Bray||OF||Kane County||ARI|
|Marty Herum||INF||Kane County||ARI|
|Cody Regis||INF||Kane County||ARI|
|Jared Wilson||P||Cedar Rapids||MIN|
|Cam Booser||P||Cedar Rapids||MIN|
|Felix Jorge||P||Cedar Rapids||MIN|
|Trevor Hildenberger||P||Cedar Rapids||MIN|
|Cody Geyer||P||Kane County||ARI|
|Ethan Elias||P||Kane County||ARI|
|Markus Solbach||P||Kane County||ARI|
|Austin Chrismon||P||Quad Cities||HOU|
|Dernier Orozco||Pitching Coach||Peoria||STL|
|Jobel Jimenez||Hitting Coach||Peoria||STL|
|Kevin Schmalzried||Strength Coach||Peoria||STL|