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40 in 25: in praise of Casey Sadler

We come here not to bury Casey Sadler(‘s shoulder), but to praise him

Los Angeles Angels v Seattle Mariners
carrying on the great tradition of 65 in a Mariners uniform
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

[Ed. note: Casey Sadler will, in all likelihood, be placed on the IL soon with season-ending shoulder surgery, but we felt he deserved a 40 in 25 as both a recognition of his contributions to the team so far and a reminder of what’s yet to come.]

If you were forced to read or memorize a poem by Robert Frost in school, it was probably one of the greatest hits: “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “The Road Less Taken,” maybe “Fire and Ice” if your teacher was into graded recitation or the Twilight books. But I am attached to “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” the first poem I ever memorized, and the one I would recite if someone challenged me to recite a poem perfectly to win ten dollars in a bet. It’s short and also in the public domain, so let’s go ahead and reproduce it here:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

If you haven’t gleaned from that poem, Frost was a riotously unhappy person, one day awakening his daughter late at night while she lay on her sickbed, leading her to a breakfast table on which sat a revolver, and asking her which parent she preferred he shoot (if you can’t tell, it was not a happy marriage.) The genteel, anesthetized version of Frost’s poems taught in schools, his tidy rhyme schemes and essay-question imagery, does not capture the measure of a man who knew of the light but kept so often to the shadows. To be fair, Frost was intimately acquainted with the shadows of loss from an early age; he lost his father at age 10, his mother at age 26; he outlived four of his six children; mental illness ran throughout his family, and he had to commit his younger sister to an institution, and lost one of his children to suicide. So it is that Frost looks at a new dawn and sees only the imminent night, the end of a season, and the fall of man himself. At a certain point, it is only natural, when life has kicked you in the teeth so many times, to adopt a defensive crouch; to see the darkness coming even in broad daylight.

The life of a fringe pitcher may not be as tragedy-strewn as Frost’s, but still involves plenty of kicks in the teeth. Ripley, Oklahoma, a town eight miles out of the much larger Stillwater, with a population numbered 423 as of the 2010 census, has three “notable people” listed in the town’s Wikipedia article: Billy McGinty (born 1871); William A. Berry, born 1915; and Casey Sadler (born 1990). (Of note, McGinty was a legitimate cowboy, lifetime president of the Rough Riders Association, the first bronc buster in a movie, and a member of the first nationally famous cowboy band; no disrespect to Casey, but he’d easily be the most famous person born in Ripley, if it had existed when he’d been born). After graduating high school, Sadler went on to Western Oklahoma State College, a community college that produced a remarkably high number of draft picks in the early 2010s, thanks to a coach who enthusiastically recruited Latin-born players from the East Coast who went overlooked by other D1 schools, including, most famously, Andrelton Simmons, among others.

And also, Casey Sadler.

Selected by the Pirates in the 25th round, Sadler worked his way up through the system, eventually being added to the Pirates’ 40-man in 2014 and making his MLB debut that year. He hung around on the fringes of Pirates roster before needing TJ surgery in 2016 and being released and then immediately re-signed, then going through the whole churn again, never finding success as a starter, before electing free agency in the 2018 off-season. Sadler kept bouncing around, being picked up by teams and DFA’d, until eventually the Mariners claimed him off waivers from the Cubs in September of 2020.

Sadler only pitched eight innings with the 2020 Mariners, but immediately, something was different. His strikeout rate rocketed up to 28.5%, 10 points over his career high, while his walk rate fell. He came back in 2021 and continued to build on his strong start in Seattle, even while dealing with a shoulder impingement, finishing the season with a franchise record scoreless inning streak of 29 appearances (27.2 innings). He was one of the key parts of a lockdown Seattle bullpen that helped the team outperform their run differential by double digits. Perhaps harkening back to his cowboy days, the Triple-S Ranch of Sadler-Sewald-Steckenrider were the nastiest gunslingers in the AL West, if not household names.

Now, that shoulder injury has come back with a vengeance, requiring surgery and for Sadler to go on the shelf for an unspecified amount of time. Nothing gold can stay.

Sadler is open about his struggles fighting his way up through the minors. On Twitter, he acknowledges that he was fortunate to be supported by his wife Marin, who worked three jobs to help him build his big-league dream while he worked at a supplement store to help cover costs, and that they were lucky to get family help to buy a foreclosed home in Florida to start climbing the property ladder, and still had to be on food assistance. (He also tells a true minor-league-grinder story about feeling fortunate to pick up a mattress someone in Charleston, WV was throwing out to sleep on so he didn’t have to sleep on an air mattress.)

For some people, struggling hardens them; it makes them see goodness as something in short supply, something fleeting, falling quickly; a happiness that has to be grasped at tightly before it goes away. That’s the lesson of “Nothing Gold Can Stay”: enjoy it while it’s here, because everything dies, decays, darkens. So often, an early deficit in something—attention, affection, praise, a feeling of success—causes us to grasp after it for our whole lives. Summer will never be long nor warm enough, happiness will never last long enough, the corner office will never be big enough; nothing will ever be enough to fill the hole in our hearts where hunger once lived.

But instead of grasping tightly to what is his, fearing it will disappear, bemoaning it before it’s gone, Casey Sadler invites all people in to share in his bounty, however much it may be, however long it lasts. He spreads awareness about cystic fibrosis, a disease that affects someone in his life, even asking James Paxton for permission to wear 65 when he first joined the team (“cystic fibrosis” sounds like “65 roses,” a motif used by supporters of the fight against the disease). He advocates for equality everywhere, and for wage equality in his sport, for those coming up behind him, even though he doesn’t know them. Every year, he puts a Starbucks gift card online and invites people to have a coffee on him, to use it up until it’s gone, which in turn inspires people to commit their own acts of generosity, to pay it forward as he did. During the owners’ lockout, Sadler volunteered his time with a local high school baseball team. And after finally making it to Spring Training only to receive the most crushing diagnosis, he offered up his two weeks’ worth of groceries to minor leaguers who might otherwise struggle to buy food.

Where others might see darkness, Sadler sees light; where others might see emptiness, he sees abundance, and he approaches life with a generosity of spirit that both celebrates the good things that have come, and trusts there will be more good things to come. It’s a life approach Robert Frost could have learned from. It’s something we all could learn from.