CWS: OSU Coach Pat Casey Leaves Lasting Memory at Children's Hospital

Rebecca proudly displaying the bracelet Coach Casey gave her - Children's Hospital & Medical Center (Omaha)

Oregon State University head baseball coach Pat Casey gave a 20-year-old OSU fan his bracelet at Children's Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha during a team hospital visit and it brought her to tears.

Oregon State college baseball coach Pat Casey and several members of his coaching staff and team stopped by Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha Wednesday morning to offer a little encouragement to children who desperately need it. If that is not impressive enough, consider that they made such a trip on the same day in which OSU is playing a College World Series (CWS) elimination game against Indiana.

Ten OSU players, four coaches and others pulled up to the hospital at 10:00 a.m. They chatted with children, signed baseballs for them and did anything they could to brighten their day – including playing catch with one little boy who tossed his signed ball at players from his hospital bed. As soon as they sat it down in front of him, he would pick it up again and fire it at another player.

Casey’s assistant coaches Pat Bailey, Nate Yeskie and Andy Jenkins were part of the group that also included players Taylor Starr, Zack Reser, Tony Bryant, Dan Child, Joey Jansen, Matt Boyd, Ben Wetzler, Andrew Moore, Jeff Hendrix and Cole Brocker.

As the team continued its tour, patient and OSU fan Rebecca Gunderson got word that the team was on the floor and she couldn’t wait to meet them. Gunderson, 20, and her family, who live in nearby Gretna, buy season tickets to the CWS every year and this year was no exception.

"The last time Oregon State was here, I picked them as my team and I have followed them since then," Gunderson told me shortly before the team walked into her room. "I’m so excited!"

OSU won the national championship in 2006 and ‘07, but hasn’t been back to the Series since, so Gunderson has been waiting a while to cheer on OSU in person.

She wasn’t feeling well during OSU’s first game on Saturday night against Mississippi State – a game the Beavers lost, 5-4. Gunderson ended up in the hospital afterward with a kidney infection, so she missed the Beaver’s second CWS game – an 11-4 win over Louisville. She cheered them on from her hospital bed though.

When the team walked into her room, she became the interviewer.

"Are you guys excited to play tonight?" she asked.

"Absolutely!" they said.

"You guys gotta win for me," she said, and giggled. Then she became serious. "You guys have no idea how much this means to me."

Coach Casey introduced himself and asked how she was doing. She explained her medical condition, saying her fever was down today.

"Today’s a good day," she said, referring to her fever. "But meeting you guys is literally my dream come true. I’m about to cry I’m so excited. Having you guys here makes my day feel more normal. I haven’t been out of my hospital room for three days."

After the team said its goodbyes to her and began to visit other patients, Coach Casey slipped away and went back to talk to Gunderson. While he was there, without any reporters in the room, he slipped off a bracelet he wears and gave it to her. By the time I got back to her room, she was already wearing it proudly.

The bracelet has a story.

"I got it here in ‘07 and it gives me that Omaha feel every time we get into a baseball grind," Coach Casey said. "It inspires me to think about the ultimate goal – getting to Omaha, so hopefully it’s an inspiration to her to feel better. If it makes her happy, then it makes me happy. I won’t miss it a bit. I’ll know it’s in great hands."

Coach Casey’s simple gesture brought Gunderson to tears.

"He told me it was his good luck charm," Gunderson said.

The funny thing is, if you listen to Coach Casey talk, you get the feeling that he doesn’t really believe in luck as much as he believes in hard work and doing what’s right.

"I tell my players that little things win big games," he said. "And little things you do for other people may mean something really big to them. I believe in life there are givers and takers and you’ve got to be a giver if you really want to get something out of life."

His team’s willingness to make a hospital visit a priority on a day in which they are playing an elimination game shows that his philosophy is filtering down to his guys.

"It’s important," he said about their visit. "This puts it all into perspective. We get to go out and play this great game of baseball while we are visiting people who can’t even walk. So this is a treat for us. It’s a blessing for us."

Later, LeRoy Swedlund of the Downtown Rotary Club and OSU’s host, returned to Gunderson’s room to give her an OSU shirt and baseball cap. He also extended an invitation of behalf of the team for Gunderson to join them in the dugout before a CWS game if she gets out of the hospital in time.

You can bet she’ll make every effort to be there.

*****

Cherie Lytle, the media relations liaison for the hospital, has been keeping track of an interesting statistic. Every year since 2000, except one, at least one team that visited the hospital ended up competing in the national championship series. Here is her list:

2012 Arizona (champion)

Visiting teams: Arkansas, South Carolina (runner up) and Arizona

2011 South Carolina (champion)

Visiting teams: South Carolina, California, the Florida Gator mascot and two players

2010 South Carolina (champion)

Visiting teams: South Carolina, Florida State

2009 LSU (champion)

Visiting teams: LSU, Texas (runner up), North Carolina

2008 Fresno State (champion)

Visiting teams: Fresno State, Rice

2007 Oregon State (champion)

Visiting team: North Carolina (runner up)

2006 Oregon State (champion)

Visiting team: North Carolina (runner up)

2005 Texas (champion - played Florida)

"This is the year that ‘ruins’ our streak," Lytle said. "Neither team playing in the championship series visited."

2004 Cal State Fullerton (champion)

Visiting team: Cal State Fullerton

2003 Rice (champion)

Visiting team: Rice

2002 Texas (champion)

Visiting team: South Carolina (runner up)

2001 Miami (champion)

Visiting team: Stanford (runner up)

2000 LSU (champion)

Visiting team: Stanford (runner up)

Curious to know which teams have visited in 2013 so far? The answer is North Carolina, Oregon State and UCLA.

Lytle is quick to say there is no expectation that teams visit and that a number of factors could keep more teams from visiting, including scheduling (for teams that win early on, they have more time to make these types of visits) and logistics, but at the same time, she believes it is possible that there is something to these numbers.

"These teams that are taking time out of their schedules and making us a destination, they are coming here because they want to see these children and their families," Lytle said. "They are hoping to deliver happy moments and they are hoping to do something special for someone else. And so I hope that’s why this is happening.

"When you do a good deed, and pay it forward, good things should happen in return. And that’s what we’ve seen with these teams. To have teams find success on the field when they’re doing such meaningful things off the field is neat to see."

UPDATE (06-21-13): I received an email from Children's Hospital & Medical Center this morning saying Mississippi State (the entire team) visited the hospital yesterday, so all four remaining teams have visited the hospital this week.

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