The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Sports

May 30, 2013

Oakwood's Casey Fletcher is heading for home

DANVILLE — All it took was one phone call for Casey Fletcher to commit to the University of Illinois.

The former Oakwood standout and current outfielder with the Danville Dans always hoped he would get the chance to follow his dad’s footstep.

Fletcher is the son of former Illinois star Darrin Fletcher, who played in 13 Major League seasons.

“I’ve always had my heart set on Illinois. I was just waiting for the one call where they said they wanted me,’’ said Casey Fletcher, who played these past two springs at Kankakee Community College. “My ultimate goal was to go to junior college and then to Illinois.

“With the strong tradition that my family has at Illinois, I wanted to carry it on.’’

But isn’t he worried that following in his father’s footsteps could be a burden?

“Dad did what he did, and I’m going to do what I can do,’’ he said. “I not going to try to top anything that he did at Illinois — some of his records are ridiculous.

“I’m my own type of player.’’

And that’s how Casey has always done it, including this past year when he drove in 69 RBIs for the Cavaliers. It was the second highest RBI total in NJCAA Division II baseball.

“I did some good things offensively this year,’’ Fletcher said. “I felt like coming in as a sophomore I was a little more ready for the year and I kind of knew what to expect.’’

He is taking that same approach to this summer.

A year ago, Fletcher batted .272 with 1 home run and 24 RBIs in 42 games with the Dans. His efforts earned him an all-star game selection, not too bad for a player that only made the roster originally as a temporary player.

“It’s definitely a little different feeling this year,’’ he said. “A year ago, I felt a lot of pressure to try and find a spot so that I could be full-time.’’

And the things that he learned last summer helped him when he got back to Kankakee.

“Facing some really good pitching during the summer, gets you ready for your college season,’’ he said.

Not only does he know that he will spend the full summer with the Dans, but Fletcher also knows where he will be this fall.

“My primary focus this summer is to get ready for the University of Illinois in the fall,’’ he said. “It’s building for next year. I have to get ready. I have to get my cuts.

“And, I have to get my body ready. My body has to be ready to play Big Ten baseball.’’

Fletcher, who is about 6-foot and 165-pounds, knows the demands of major college baseball will take its toll.

“I was undersized coming out of high school,’’ he said. “I knew I was destined to play at the junior-college level. I wanted to get my 100-plus at-bats a year.

“If I would have gone to a four-year university, I would not have been playing right off the bat.’’

While Fletcher has only gained about 5-10 pounds in his two seasons at Kankakee, he does notice a big difference in his strength.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was in high school,’’ he said. “Tyler Knight (a former Oakwood athlete) had me on a strict regime at Kankakee. He got me to the gym every day.’’

And he hopes that added strength will pay dividends this summer with the Dans.

“I looking forward to a good year and we hope to win a few more games,’’ he said.

Fletcher is a preferred walk-on at Illinois, turning down scholarship offers from Morehead State an St. Leo.

“I knew I was going to find a good place to play, it was just a matter of where,’’ he said. “But, in the back of my mind, I was always waiting on Illinois.

“I think it’s exciting for me and my family — especially having my dad being able to come to the games.’’

Fletcher, who is always a fan favorite at Danville Stadium, hopes the same is true at Illinois Field.

“Hopefully, a lot of people in the area will come out to see me play at Illinois,’’ he said.

And now, he has to find a role.

“I’m going to fight for a starting outfield position,’’ he said. “But, if that doesn’t work, I will do whatever the coaches need me to do to help the team to be successful.’’

That’s exactly the type of player the University of Illinois knows it will be getting in Casey Fletcher.

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