BALTIMORE, Md. - When Casper Wells was attending Towson University and playing baseball for the Tigers from 2003 to 2005, one of his favorite activities was joining his friends and teammates at Oriole Park at Camden Yards to watch major league baseball games.
"We used to go down there on Friday nights when it was College Night," he recalls. "It was a great deal. We could buy tickets for $5 each and the crowds weren't big. So, they let you sit anywhere. When we went down there, I would envision myself out there on the field with my friends in the stands and I wondered what it would be like."
On Friday, October 2, Wells' vision came true. It was Friday night, College Night, and his friends and teammates were in the centerfield bleachers for a doubleheader between the Orioles and the Detroit Tigers.
Playing centerfield for Detroit was #57, Casper Wells.
On the final weekend of a memorable rookie season, Casper had returned to Baltimore. However, this time he didn't need to buy a $5 ticket.
"It was always my dream to play in the major leagues," he explains.
A native of Schenectady, N.Y., Wells was a 14th-round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers in 2005 after an outstanding three-season career at Towson.
After working his way up through the Tigers' minor league system, he was called up to the major leagues for the first time this past May.
He recalls, "I was playing for the Toledo Mud Hens and we had just finished up a series in Durham against the Bulls. My manager, Larry Parrish, called me into his office and he told me I was going to Detroit. It was an awesome feeling, but I was in shock."
The Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year in 2005, Wells spent a week with Detroit. He appeared in four games and batted .222. The highlight of his week in the big leagues was a clutch two-run double in a 5-1 win over Oakland on May 19.
When Detroit sent him back to Toledo, he took it all in stride.
He recalls, "When I went back to Toledo, I worked with the batting coach and we changed my approach at the plate. I was confident and comfortable."
When Casper was called up to the majors again in late August, he brought that approach with him.
As a result, he was one of the Tigers' hottest hitters in the final six weeks of the season. During that stretch, he played in 32 games and batted .333 with five doubles, a triple, four home runs and 15 runs batted in.
In his first six weeks as a major leaguer, there were plenty of memorable moments.
On August 31, he had his first three-hit game in the major leagues when he went three-for-three in a 4-3 loss to Minnesota at Target Field.
Two days later, he clouted the first home run of his big league career - and it was a clutch hit. With the Tigers trailing by 8-7 in the top of the ninth inning, Casper led off by belting a solo homer over the right field fence to tie the game. Detroit went on to win the game in the 13th inning, 10-9.
"The funny thing is that I didn't even realize it was my first home run until I got back to the dugout," he recalls. "I was more excited that the homer tied the game and we went on to win."
On September 5, he blasted the second home run of his career at Kansas City. His fifth inning homer off Kyle Davies was Detroit's only run in a 2-1 loss to the Royals.
At Texas on September 14, Casper had another memorable game. He went four-for-four with one run batted in although Detroit lost to the Rangers, 11-4.
By the end of the season, Casper had made quite an impression on the Detroit organization, including the Tigers' manager, Jim Leyland.
A veteran of 19 seasons as a major league manager, Leyland called Casper the second-best outfielder in the Detroit organization behind Austin Jackson.
Although he went hitless in the first game of his return to Baltimore, he distinguished himself with two very good defensive plays in centerfield. In the fifth inning, he robbed the Orioles' Nick Markakis of an extra base hit with a diving catch in left centerfield. In the bottom of the eighth inning, he threw Jake Fox out at home plate when Fox tried to score from second base on a single by Alex Andino.
After the game, Leyland said, "Casper has a pretty accurate throwing arm and he made another play that was a very, very nice play. Some centerfielders make it and some don't. But, he's a good outfielder."
Detroit's season-ending visit to Baltimore afforded the opportunity for Casper to renew a number of old relationships. On the first night of the weekend series, the Orioles and Tigers were rained out. Casper rented a car and drove up to the Towson campus where he met up with some former teammates, Towson Baseball Coach Mike Gottlieb and Assistant Coach Scott Roane.
Despite a rough weekend in Baltimore, Casper finished his first season with a .323 batting average in 96 at bats. He played in 36 games and scored 14 runs. Among his 30 base hits were six doubles, one triple, four homers and 17 runs batted in.
One of Casper's fondest memories of his first stint in the major leagues was the ballparks he saw.
"It was really interesting for me to see all of the different ballparks around the majors," he said. "On the first day we were in a city, I would go out to the ballpark early and look around. I got to see Dodger Stadium, U.S. Cellular Field (Chicago) and Target Field (Minnesota) and it was unbelievable. It was a great feeling to walk out into the stadiums and look around while the stands were empty."
Before he was drafted by Detroit, Casper enjoyed an outstanding college career at Towson.
A two-time All-CAA selection in his three years at Towson, he batted .351, the sixth-highest batting average in school history. A second team All-American in 2005, he finished his career with 34 doubles, 12 triples, 28 home runs and 115 runs batted in. As a pitcher for Towson, he appeared in 35 games and compiled an 8-5 record with three saves and a 5.62 E.R.A.
In 2005, he helped Towson post a 34-24 record and finish as CAA runners-up.
Considering that the Detroit Tigers' motto for the 2010 season was "Always a Tiger," it's very appropriate that Casper Wells made his major league debut this year.
As he says, "I've always been Tigers all the way."
If the 2010 season is any indication, Casper is likely to be a Detroit Tiger for a long time.