Friday, July 29, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Doing it the right way

Leader sports editor

It’s not often that Division I college baseball players take the entire summer off from playing, but it’s fortunate for Cabot’s Centennial Bank American Legion program that one does. One of its alumnus, and a 2013 Cabot High graduate, Casey Vaughan, is finishing up his third year helping head coach Chris Gross coach the Centennial Bank 19-under team.

It’s not all boiled down to choice. Circumstances have provided a way for Vaughan to come home each summer, but it’s something he clearly is enjoying.

“It’s turned out great,” Vaughan told The Leader earlier this week. “I love it. I’ve always been interested in coaching, and this is a way to help me figure out if it’s something I really want to do.”

Vaughan was just tired after his first year of college baseball at Crowder Community College in Missouri. Crowder played almost 60 games, and the demand for JUCO players to stay busy in the summer isn’t as great as DI, so he took the summer off and helped with Cabot’s American Legion program.

He suffered a major injury eight games into his sophomore season, and had to have labrum surgery, which is a major procedure, especially for a baseball player. He still wasn’t cleared to play when the college season ended, so he was back with the Centennial Bank squad, helping them become better.

He got a medical redshirt and turned in a monster sophomore season in 2016. But when it was over, the best thing for his shoulder was rest. So once again, he’s back this year helping Gross coach Cabot’s AA team, which is one of only four teams remaining in the state tournament this weekend in Sheridan.

Vaughan has turned in two phenomenal seasons in three years at Crowder. His freshman year he hit .321 with six doubles, five triples and 25 RBIs before suffering the injury his sophomore year. He came back this past season and added power to his stat line. He finished the 2016 season with a .351 average to go with a team high 12 home runs and 43 RBIs. He also stole 15 bases.

That season gained him attention from the larger schools that he had not seen to that point, and he signed with Arkansas State University in the spring.

“The goal for me was always to make it to Division I,” Vaughan said. “Now, once I got to this point, it’s like, that’s not enough. Now I want to be one of the best Division I players. And I want to make an impact as far as how hard I work and the impression I leave behind.”

To watch Vaughan play, and then coach, seems to show two drastically different sides of his personality. The player is always hyper focused and serious, while the coach is amiable and relaxed.

“I like to think there’s a big difference between Casey Vaughan the coach and Casey Vaughan the player,” he said. “When I’m playing, I am only in control of what I do. Focus is a huge factor. I tune everything else out and I am just in the game. As a coach, I want to provide some energy and be someone those guys enjoy playing for, but also a guy that makes them want to play hard for me.

“I know when I was coming up, I really looked up to coach (Jay) Fitch and all those guys that were coaching. I want to be someone they can look up to.”

While Vaughan was looking up to Jay Fitch, his high school coach at Cabot, Fitch was telling his son to look up to Vaughan.

“I would always tell my son, Grant, ‘if you want to know how to play the game, watch Casey Vaughan play the game’” said Fitch. “He hustles in and out between innings. If he walks, he hustles down to first base. He was a kid I wanted my three boys watching, so they can learn how to play the game the right way. It’s so rare to have a young man nowadays that takes that approach, and I didn’t want my boys to miss seeing it done right. Casey was just a joy to watch and to coach. Coaches really love having those guys on your team, and they don’t come around all the time.”

Using Vaughan as an example for his kids was a lesson they didn’t forget.

“I went up to Crowder to watch him and Ryan Logan play,” Fitch said. “The first thing Grant said was that he was still hustling like he used to. So that stuck with him all those years. And I think it’s great he’s coaching. He’s the kind of guy, so well rounded with his work ethic and still having fun, he’ll probably make a great coach if that’s what he decides to do.”

Vaughan’s work ethic doesn’t start and stop on the diamond. He carries a 3.7 GPA into ASU, majoring in kinesiology with a minor focus on psychology.

He credits his faith, as well as the example and support given him by parents Doug and Sheila Vaughan, for his success.

“My parents have taken the time to make sure they instill hard work in me,” Vaughan said. “They’ve put a lot of their resources into helping me and investing in me. I couldn’t do anything without them.

“My Faith has carried me a long way, too. I’m a Christian and my faith was a major comfort and motivator for me. Coming back from labrum surgery was brutal. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.

“The coaches and trainers at Crowder have all been there for me, and made an impact on me. So there’s a lot of people involved in helping me to where I am today, and I’m really grateful for all of it.”

Once the American Legion state tournament is over, Vaughan will get ready to report to Jonesboro and embark upon his first season as a DI player. Like all ball players, he has dreams of playing professionally.

“The goal now is to finish my two years, get the degree and see where that takes me,” Vaughan, who turns 22 in two weeks, said.

“Of course, everybody wants to play professionally, and I’m going to work as hard as I can to make that happen. But what I want to leave behind is this. if I don’t make it, it won’t be because I didn’t work hard enough,” he said.