BOSTON — Yankees third baseman Casey McGehee isn't the most likely big leaguer. While much of California is considered a baseball hotbed, with both north and south producing a huge number of baseball players, the Central Coast town of Santa Cruz doesn't seem like the kind of town that breeds the kind of competitiveness you typically see in professional athletes.
In short, it's a beach town, a college town and a vacation town, the kind of place where time seems to slow down.
"It's a unique place, kind of secluded," said McGehee before his Yankees defeated the Red Sox 2-0 on Thursday. "It's got everything you could want, but at the same time it's kind of got that small-town feel. It's a good place to grow up, it's real laid-back, pretty 'anything goes' for the most part. I miss it, it's a beautiful place, and in the offseason I try to make it back whenever I can, see some old faces."
The town actually has produced a few names — Glenallen Hill graduated
from Santa Cruz High School and later coached there, Carlos Torres plays with the Colorado Rockies and the infamous
Andy Messersmith until recently coached the local community college — but it's not exporting professional athletes on a regular basis
"There haven't been a ton of players to come out of there, but I think it's more a product of that there's so much else to do," said McGehee. "The beach is right there, a lot of kids would rather spend their time there rather than going out and playing baseball or basketball. But slowly but surely it's starting to change, the high school programs are getting better and better. Hopefully in the near future you'll see a few more faces from the area in the big leagues."
Santa Cruz is a town framed by a redwood forest, just over the hill from the metro hub of San Jose. But since it's on the other side of a mountain range, it often feels like its own planet. So how did McGehee adjust in terms of coming from such a place to the concrete jungle of New York City?
"I've spent my fair share of times in big cities, but New York, it feels like you're on fast forward almost when you're in the city," said McGehee. "I enjoy it, there's always something to do, places to go, things to see, but at the same time it's always nice when the last out is made to be able to take a quick break from it and slow things down a little bit. It's one of a kind."
Nonetheless, McGehee is clearly a California guy, after leaving Santa Cruz moving on to Fresno State University and playing for the Bulldogs. At the time the program was an up-and-comer, but after winning a NCAA Division I title in 2008 — well after McGehee left — it's become much more high profile.
"I had the chance to go play a lot of different places, but Fresno was pretty much at the top of my list as far as where I wanted to go," said McGehee. "Bob Bennett was still the coach there my first two years, he's a college baseball legend and a big part of the reason I wanted to go there. It felt like from the time I got there to the time I left I grew up a lot, learned a lot about the game and just how to conduct yourself on and off the field. Looking back on it, wouldn't have changed a thing. I probably could have gone places that were more national powerhouse-type programs, but I'm definitely proud to say I played there."
McGehee's had a tough time sustaining success after a solid first two campaigns in 2009 and 2010 with Milwaukee. However, if anyone has been conditioned with the kind of laid-back attitude to leave his struggles behind and move forward, it's the Santa Cruz native.