The content in this blog was written as an article by Shelby Dermer for the Cincinnati Enquirer. See the complete article here.
FLORENCE — In May 2021, Casey Grimm was preparing for one final season in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League (GLSCL) as a pitcher with the Hamilton Joes.
After that, Grimm’s baseball future was not guaranteed.
Then, while packing his bags after a Joes’ victory at McBride Stadium in Richmond, Indiana, on June 29, his phone rang.
On the other end was Chad Rhoades, the pitching coach for the Florence Y’alls of the Frontier Independent League. The conversation with Rhoades and Y’alls manager Brian White lasted until midnight. When he hung up the phone, he was a professional baseball player.
“It was my mom’s birthday (when they reached out). It was like the best birthday gift she could ever ask for. She was so excited and she was crying,” Grimm said. “It was awesome.”
Grimm, a Colerain High School product, officially signed July 7 and his first month as a professional has been a whirlwind.
In his debut at Y’alls Ballpark against the Lake Erie Crushers, Grimm allowed four first-inning runs on four hits and two walks. Over the final four frames, Grimm allowed two runs and earned the victory when the Y’alls rallied for a 9-8 win.
“That first start I had so much adrenaline,” Grimm said. “I had 50 or 60 family members in the stands. After the first inning, I kind of settled in.”
In his next outing, Grimm tossed seven innings of three-run ball to lead Florence to an 8-4 win over the Windy City Thunderbolts. In five starts, Grimm holds a 2-1 record and the Y’alls are 4-1 when he toes the slab.
“It’s been insane so far,” Grimm said.
Overcoming the odds
The way Grimm carved out a professional career was unique and improbable. The left-hander had to overcome the adversity produced from a lack of recognition, a pitcher’s worst nightmare and a global pandemic.
Browsing through the archives of the Greater Miami Conference, you won’t find Grimm’s name on any all-league teams. In three seasons at Colerain, he threw just 35 ⅓ innings out of the bullpen, posting a 2-2 record, a pair of saves and a respectable 3.76 ERA.
When it came to a college decision, Grimm just wanted to play baseball.
“I didn’t get a lot of innings in high school, so I wasn’t getting many looks,” he said. “Toward the end of my senior year, I started reaching out to some colleges and Wright State Lake actually reached out to me. I took a visit up there. I knew I’d be fighting for playing time right away and I figured I’d rather go there than redshirt for a year.”
At Wright State University-Lake Campus, a member of the United Small College Athletic Association (USCAA), Grimm immediately became one of the team’s most-used arms during the 2017 season. He finished his freshman campaign 6-2 over 51 innings.
As a sophomore, Grimm went 3-2 with a 4.22 ERA over a team-high 53 ⅓ innings over 11 appearances, helping lead the Lakers to USCAA World Series.
In Game 1 against Penn State Du Bois, Grimm retired six of the first eight batters he faced. Then, in the third inning, he delivered a fastball and felt a pop.
“I’ve never had any arm problems, ever,” Grimm said. “I threw a couple more and it kept bothering me and I called out the trainer. I knew I was done.”
The training staff didn’t need much information to deliver a quick diagnosis: Grimm had torn his UCL, which meant Tommy John surgery and extensive rehab.
“It was a gut punch,” Grimm said.
Luckily for Grimm, Dr. Tim Kremchek, one of Major League Baseball’s best team surgeons for the Cincinnati Reds, performed the surgery.
Just 5 ½ months post-operation, he was throwing. He breezed through rehabilitation with no setbacks. By summer 2019, he was suiting back up for the Cincinnati Steam, making 10 appearances out of the bullpen.
After spending most of the fall and winter getting the arm prepared for the 2020 season at Wright State Lake, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down his senior season after just 11 games.
“It took 11 months to get to 100 percent,” he said. “Then we shut down, but it gave me two full years to get healthy.”
Though he had more time to rest his reconstructed elbow, Grimm was running out of baseball. For the first time since he was a child, his summer wouldn’t involve the game. During the layoff, he worked out at Ohio Baseball Science Academy in West Chester, preparing for one more season as a graduate student, but then what?
‘It was my best year’
In an era of lighting up radar guns and overpower hitters, Grimm stands out. He’s never going to blow fastballs past the opposition. Instead, his style is an ode to baseball’s past, where hurlers had to use a barrage of pitches, located in the right spot, to get outs.
Just down the road from Florence, Reds’ starting left-hander Wade Miley is 9-4 with a 2.75 ERA and threw a no-hitter earlier this season. Miley is one of a handful of MLB pitchers who do not top 90 MPH with any pitch.
Grimm takes a similar approach. When he’s on the rubber, he’s trying to avoid barrels like the plague, inducing weak contact with precisely-placed off-speed offerings. One mistake — like a breaking ball just a few inches off its mark— could spell trouble.
“The way I can mix speeds and get guys out on their front foot, it makes my stuff play better than what it might be or how hard I’m throwing,” Grimm said. “If I’m hitting my spots, I’m gonna get guys out.”
Having Tommy John and extended time off helped Grimm perfect his mechanics. It showed right away during his final season at Wright State Lake. In nine appearances (eight starts), Grimm went 5-4 with a 2.05 ERA over 52 ⅔ innings. He threw a no-hitter with 16 strikeouts against Roosevelt University-Peoria on April 25 and was later named the USCAA national player of the year.
“It was my best year on the mound for sure. It was definitely a statement season,” Grimm said.
If Florence had never called that night in June, Grimm would’ve won a GLSCL championship with the Hamilton Joes and likely bid baseball goodbye.
A final year at Wright State Lake was on tap, but as he puts it, he would’ve been a “normal student” just finishing up his MBA with no eligibility remaining. He was already planning to try out for a Frontier League club, but the Y’alls got to him first.
For a pitcher who doesn’t throw 95, went to a small school and has already had Tommy John, Grimm is just riding the wave. He gets paid to play baseball, and that’s a dream come true no matter the level.
Most importantly, his confidence never wavered.
“No, I never believed I couldn’t get here,” Grimm said from the Y’alls’ clubhouse. “I know the odds were stacked against me. I just always believed that I could do it as long as I kept working hard. That’s what I did and it’s been pretty sweet.”