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Missouri pitcher Casey Stangel living up to her namesake

Thursday, March 13, 2014 | 8:59 p.m. CDT; updated 9:27 p.m. CDT, Thursday, March 13, 2014
Freshman pitcher Casey Stangel works on her hitting during practicing on Jan. 22 at the Devine Athletic Pavillion.

COLUMBIA — She hears it all the time.

Casey Stangel's name will be announced. She'll step up to the plate.

And then the umpires will ask her.

"Did you know...?" they'll start to ask.

Yes, she knows. The freshman Missouri pitcher's name has the same pronunciation as Casey Stengel, the legendary baseball player and manager, most famous for managing the New York Yankees and the New York Mets in the 1950s and '60s.

It's the older umpires, people who really know baseball, that ask Stangel. Her peers usually don't make the connection. During a game against Texas A&M on March 7, Aggie announcers pointed this out.

"They're probably too young to recognize the name," they said.

She might hear those words again in Columbia this weekend, when the No. 16 Tigers (15-5) take on No. 9 Kentucky from Friday to Sunday.

But whether everyone sees the connection or not, yes, it was on purpose.

Stangel's father, Chris Stangel, lives for baseball. He played for De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., then for St. Mary's College of California, then for minor-league affiliates of the San Francisco Giants from 1984 to 1989.

So Chris Stangel, like those old umpires, has a good idea of who Stengel was.

The Yankees had great tradition; tradition, Chris Stangel thought, that Stengel helped promote.

So he always wanted that name for his child.

However, when his first child — a son — arrived, he changed his mind. The name, "Casey Stangel," would put pressure on a boy to be a baseball star, he felt.

He and his wife, Debi Stangel, named their son Emmitt, after Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith.

When a girl came along, Chris Stangel faced a different predicament.

"She can't play baseball," he thought. "What the hell do I do with a girl?"

In the end, he hoped she'd be the first girl to ever play baseball and gave her "the ultimate baseball name."

As a star pitcher and hitter at Lake City High School in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Casey Stangel was a four-time Inland Empire League Player of the Year, a three-time National Fastpitch Coaches Association High School All-America honoree and a three-time Gatorade State Softball Player of the Year in Idaho, among other things.

At Missouri, she's started in 18 games as a freshman and has a 7-2 record.

But her dad sees her living up to her namesake in ways other than her athletic accomplishments — her passion and sacrifice.

"Her team and coaches come first," Chris Stangel said.

As Casey Stangel grew up, her family expected her to attend Stanford, California or UCLA. Instead, she chose Missouri, largely because of the coaching staff.

"Coach E (Ehren Earleywine) talked a lot about, like, all the things he wanted to do in the future, whereas other schools would be like, you know, 'Oh, we won 14 national championships. We did all this in the past,'" Casey Stangel said.

She wouldn't get perfect weather. She wouldn't pitch every game. She'd share the spotlight with fellow freshman pitcher, Tori Finucane.

"It's hard to find people that unselfish," Earleywine said of Casey Stangel and Finucane.

Chris Stangel remembered the first Stengel playing injured and sacrificing everything for his team. When he found out the baseball icon was from Kansas City, Mo., he knew his daughter had made the right choice.

It was, he said, like fate.

"If you cut her," he said, "I swear black and gold would pour out of her."

She's the first one out of the dugout every day and she's very organized and disciplined, but when a song came on over the loudspeakers at the Aggie Softball Complex last weekend, she was among the first to start dancing.

Stengel was also known for his antics on the field, and the term "Stengelese" even developed to describe his odd sayings.

Chris Stangel jokingly attributes the strangeness to both his daughter and the former Yankee being left-handed.

"Left-handed people in baseball are goofy," he said. "People in baseball call them 'wrong-handed people.' They're wacky in the head."

Casey Stangel enjoys making weird noises with teammates from the dugout. She's drawn a Snapcchat of members of the softball staff to make them look like Santa Claus. She'll dance on the bases at practice and yell things like, "Smell ya later!"

But during games, she's serious.

After an 11-2 loss against Texas A&M last weekend, Casey Stangel talked to her dad. She was clearly upset, but she promised to make adjustments and get better.

She drew on one of the few Stengel quotes she knows: "Most ballgames are lost, not won."

"It took me actually until this year to understand," Casey Stangel said. Mistakes, not good play, are often decisive in softball as well as baseball.

After the loss to the Aggies, she showed her dad she had learned that lesson.

But rather than Stengel, Casey Stangel went with a Rocky quote: "It ain't how hard you're hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward."

The moment reduced her dad to tears.

Casey Stangel, he said, is starting to live up to the name that shows up every time she Googles herself. The passion, spirit — and, yes, pronunciation — are all there.

"I promise you," he said, "the name is her."

Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.


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