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May 18, 2012

A hit in coaching

By: Jimmy Robertson

Former Tech third baseman Casey Waller sports an impressive resumé as a high school coach, including winning a state championship


To say that baseball is in Casey Waller’s blood might just be an understatement.

After all, he played at Tech for three years and played in the professional ranks for eight more. Now, he coaches the sport at the high school level, which he has done for nine years.

And when you’ve been as successful as he has, why try something else?

Waller, a former Tech third baseman, serves as the head baseball coach at Hughesville High School in Hughesville, Pa., a small town of about 2,200 people less than three hours northwest of Philadelphia. He just took the job at Hughesville last year after serving in an assistant’s capacity. Before that, he enjoyed a successful six-year stint as the head coach at Loyalsock High in Williamsport, Pa., guiding Loyalsock to a state championship during that span.

To understand his love for baseball, one must go back to his roots as a young kid in Halifax County, Va. Thanks to a work ethic instilled into him by his father, a tough disciplinarian, Waller excelled at several sports, but came to love baseball. He spent many evenings at a baseball field or working on his hitting in the batting cages that his father built for him.

He became a standout at Halifax County High School in the mid-1980s. Then-Tech head coach Chuck Hartman made the trip to Halifax to see Waller play, and after watching him, he offered Waller a scholarship on the spot.

“He came down to scout me my senior year and offered me a full ride,” Waller said. “Tech was about 2.5 hours from where I grew up. I had talked with Florida State and some other teams, but I wanted to be close to home.”

Hartman also offered Waller’s best friend and teammate on that Halifax team – Len Wentz. They ended up becoming roommates and standouts, starting in 1987.

Waller actually started every game of his career at Tech. In 1987 and 1989, he earned first-team All-Metro Conference honors as a third baseman. He led the Hokies in hitting in 1989, batting .365, and he still holds the Tech single-season record for putouts by a third baseman (67, 1988) and the career mark as well (151, 1987-89).

The Philadelphia Phillies drafted Waller in the 11th round of Major League Baseball’s Amateur Draft following Waller’s junior season. He expected to be in the top five rounds, but made the decision to sign with the Phillies anyway, marking the end to his Tech career.

“I was projected to go in the top five rounds, so don’t believe everything you read,” Waller said. “But it was always a dream of mine to play at the highest level. It was hard to leave all my friends, but I ultimately wanted to play professional baseball.

“I would have liked to have seen what we [the Hokies] could do my senior year. But I don’t have any regrets. I got as far as Triple A. It was a great experience for me. Baseball has always been a passion of mine, and it taught me a lot about life. It will teach you to be humble.”

Waller’s minor-league career took him to Spartanburg, S.C.; Clearwater, Fla.; Reading, Pa.; and Scranton, Pa. In 1991, he hit a combined .261 with 12 homers and 52 RBI for the Phillies’ Double-A team in Reading and the Triple-A team in Scranton. The following year, he split time between both teams again, but hit .295 in 23 games with Scranton and thought he might get “the call.”

“That one year, I thought I might get called up to the big leagues,” he said. “That was a little disheartening, but I’m sure there are a lot of guys out there who were in the same situation.”

Waller spent five years in the Phillies organization. In 1994, he played in 68 games for an independent team in Brainerd, Minn., and then the following year, he played some in Canada before landing with the Florida Marlins’ Double-A squad in Portland, Maine. He had varying degrees of success at those stops, but after spending the 1996 season in Canada, he decided to hang up his spikes.

Asked for some of his fondest memories of playing minor league baseball, Waller laughed.

“It wasn’t the 10- to 12-hour road trips, that’s for sure,” he said. “Or losing meal money playing cards in the back of the bus.”

Joking aside, his playing days, both at Tech and in the minors, took him to some interesting places and enabled him to meet some cool people. One summer while at Tech, he played in the prestigious Cape Cod League and got to meet future major leaguers Frank Thomas and J.T. Snow. During another summer, he played in Alaska and got to meet Jeff Kent, who later won the National League MVP with the San Francisco Giants.

“He was a down-to-earth guy,” Waller said of Kent. “He was an unbelievable person.

“The whole experience [in Alaska] was unbelievable. There were 24 hours of daylight there. My teammate at Tech, Brad DuVall, was also on the team, so that was a neat experience. Then I got to do some salmon fishing while I was there. The whole experience is something I’ll always remember.”

While in the Phillies organization, he met a handful of folks familiar to those knowledgeable in baseball – a group that included former Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal and former Phillies reliever Ricky Bottalico. He also got to meet former Tech great Mike Williams, who made his major league debut with the Phillies in 1992, and Waller also knows John Kruk, a former Phillies first baseman. He expressed a fondness for Lee Elia as well. Elia once managed the Phillies and managed Scranton in 1992 during Waller’s time there.

“He’s one of the most knowledgeable men I know,” Waller said.

After playing baseball for so long, Waller knew he wanted to remain in the sport in some capacity. He thought about coaching in the major leagues, but knew the travel would be tough on his wife and kids.

So he came back to Tech and got his degree in 2000 in education and accepted the head coaching job in 2004 at Loyalsock High School, near Williamsport.

He established himself as one of the premier prep coaches in the state. In six years, his teams went 115-27. Loyalsock won three district titles, three conference titles and the school’s first state championship (Class AA). The state title came in 2008, with the team going 22-4 and winning its final 11 games.

After the 2009 season, he stepped down to spend more time with his family. He and his second wife, Dayne, got married that summer – he and his first wife had divorced after 10 years of marriage – and he also wanted to watch his kids’ exploits.

Of course, his time out of baseball lasted about a year. In 2010, he took an assistant’s job at Hughesville High while continuing to teach at Loyalsock. Then, last winter, he took over as the head coach at Hughesville when the head coach resigned.

“My wife has been a godsend to me,” Waller said. “She accepts me for what I do, and that’s not easy.

“I’m still searching for a balance between what I do and family. If anyone out there has the answer, please call me.”

Running a thriving baseball program and raising four kids keeps Waller busy these days. But he manages to keep up with the Hokies, and he even brought his team to Virginia for a couple of games against his old high school team at Halifax in late March. After that, they came to Blacksburg to watch the Hokies play against Duke.

“I hope some day to get a college job,” Waller said. “It would be a dream of mine to get back to Tech and to help them get to the NCAA. I’ve gotten to meet Coach [Pete] Hughes and his staff, and I follow them all the time.

“I’d love to move back some day. That’s a goal of mine. We’ll see. Hopefully, the opportunity will present itself.”

Regardless, he’ll continue to remain in the sport that he loves. It’s been good to him, and he’s good at it. The results certainly attest to that.