Published April 24, 1994
Copyright by The Associated Press
BITTERSWEET REUNION / FISK TRIES TO RECAPTURE LOST SEASONS WITH SON
After 22 springs apart, baseball brings Carlton Fisk and son together
By Bill Vogrin
In batting cages and dugouts at spartan ballparks, on long bus rides down Midwestern highways, a father and son are making up for lost time.
The father is Carlton Fisk, one of baseball’s greatest catchers, a prospective Hall of Famer, and the man who put bat to ball on one of the most dramatic home runs in World Series history.
His son, Casey, is a catcher for Illinois State University’s baseball team, struggling to find his hitting stroke in his senior year and trying to fit in behind the plate, where his father casts such a long shadow.
For the last 22 springs, baseball has kept them apart. This season, his first out of professional baseball, Fisk has put on a new red-and-white uniform as a volunteer coach for Illinois State – and for one player in particular.
Baseball has finally brought Carlton and Casey Fisk together. But it’s been a bittersweet reunion.
“I’ve tried to help the team, but for one player in particular, I might have become a burn,” the elder Fisk said. “In fact, I’m afraid I’ve been a pretty heavy burden for Casey and I wanted to be anything but.”
Fisk is suffering as he watches his only son struggle in his senior year at a game that came so much easier to him in 22 years with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox. Casey has just five hits in 54 at-bats, an .093 average, through Monday. His team is struggling to reach .500.
“I hope he doesn’t think I’m here in a judgmental capacity,” Fisk said while watching batting practice recently. “Sometimes my heart aches for him. He tries so hard. I hope he’s not trying to play well to impress me.
“No matter what transpires on the field, my love for him is unconditional.”
Casey Fisk was born in 1972, about the time his father was heading to spring training for his rookie year with the Boston Red Sox. Carlton Fisk was the American League Rookie of the Year that year, and a Gold Glove winner.
It was a sign of things to come: the All-Star appearances, the dramatic 12th-inning winning home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, the records for most home runs by a catcher and most games caught. Fisk and Hall of Famers Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra are the only catchers in history to collect at least 300 homers, 1,000 RBIs and 1,000 runs.
That is what Carlton Fisk achieved. Casey Fisk knows what his father missed.
“In the past, when I had free time during the summer, he was working,” Casey said as he prepared for a game behind the plate. “And in the winters, I was in school and busy. It’s a nice change to have him here.
“He hasn’t seen me play hardly at all before this year.”
Fisk said their season together has opened his eyes about Casey.
“I see Casey more as a man,” Fisk said. “Until this point, he’s always been my baby boy. I still want to hug him and kiss him. And I do.
“But he’s been down here four years, on his own. He’s really grown up and I missed that process.”
Still, father and son hug when they meet at the field and huddle at the batting cage before Casey takes his swings. Fisk offers tips to the Illinois State batters, works with pitchers, and posts himself at the end of the dugout during games to study opposing pitchers and analyze each Redbird player’s at-bat.
“He’s an extra weapon in our dugout,” said Illinois State Coach Jeff Stewart.
Catching is a new position for Casey; he pitched last year and played first base in previous seasons. Yet he says it feels “semi-natural” to crouch in the back of the batter’s box, as his dad did for so many seasons.
“I don’t feel out of place at all,” said Casey, pulling on a black mitt embroidered with his dad’s name, a leftover that Fisk was breaking in last June when he was released by the White Sox.
Casey’s teammates speak in glowing terms of the elder Fisk and his coaching contributions.
“I live 10 minutes from Comiskey Park in Chicago and I was in awe when he got here,” said Matt Gainer, a junior outfielder. “But he’s so down-to-earth.
“He’s gone from making millions to riding 10 hours on a bus with us to Omaha. He has put himself back in the minors. And he’s taught us so much about the game.”
Retirement from baseball has given Fisk time to do all of that. It’s also given him time to contemplate what he missed all those summers away from home.
“Baseball allowed me to be where I am in life, but I will never forgive the game for what I lost with my children,” Fisk said. “My oldest daughter is 23 and I hardly ever spent any time with her.
“My son and daughters are adults and I haven’t had much of an impact on them personally. Only by my example.
“I feel I’ve missed a closeness that can never be regained. People say: `You made all that money.’ But I’ve given up a lot.”
This spring, he’s regaining a bit of what he lost.
“Like that Garth Brooks song says, `You could have missed the pain, but then you would have missed the dance.’ We’re in the last part of the dance and he’s my partner. I wouldn’t have missed it.”