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Mudville: October 27, 2020 10:22 am PDT
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The Mini-Horse Whisperer, Casey Fossum

"You know, I kind of look at it like my life in baseball. There were times when I was hurt and nobody wanted me. These horses, they get off the track and need a job."

While the average retirement age for Americans is 62, that number comes down by decades for Major League Baseball players who aren’t named Phil Niekro or Julio Franco.

So, what’s a baseball player to do when he retires before the age that an average person is even getting settled into a career? Some stay in the game through coaching, private instruction or broadcasting. Others are content to fade into anonymity, creating a life of privacy that was impossible to foster as while playing America’s Pastime.

Most find new activites to replace the daily grind of games, offseason workouts, contract negotiations and trade rumors.

Former Red Sox lefty Casey Fossum, along with this wife Kadette, have found a unique and touching endeavor to pursue in their lives since Fossum’s retirement a decade ago.

A trip to a wedding and some encouragement from Casey reignited a love for horses in Kadette and the two have since partnered in a new passion that has brought plenty of joy to people and equines alike.

Fossum joins Spitballin’ this week to not only discuss his time in the Majors, but to also talk about Horse S.H.O.E. (Safe Haven on Earth), an endeavor in which the Fossums rescue and rehome retired thoroughbred racehorses.

The Fossums aren’t just into thoroughbreds either. They have two miniature horses, Duey and Dazzy, that live with them and put a smile on the face of anyone who meet the two 32-inch miniature horses.

With everything negative going on in the world these days, it’s a heartwarming vision to picture a former Major Leaguer and his wife walking miniature horses around their neighborhood, garnering more than a passing glance from anyone who happens to see them.

In a time when the world needs as many people—and animals—spreading love, the Fossums have us covered, so let’s go Spitballin’ to reminisce about baseball, Horse S.H.O.E. and our new friends, Dazzy and Duey.

Fossum with the Red Sox

Thanks for joining us for Spitballin’, Mr. Fossum. I have a feeling this will be one of the more unique editions we have written. Let’s start with baseball. Going back to your childhood, who were some of the first players or teams you enjoyed watching?

Well, I grew up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, just outside of Philadelphia, so I was a huge Phillies fan in the 1980s. I remember going to quite a lot of Phillies games to watch Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton and Pete Rose. That’s what really sparked my interest. The Braves were always on TV, so I watched a lot of those games too.

Will Clark also became one of my favorite players. He was probably my favorite player growing up. Even though he was in San Francisco, he was a left-handed hitter and went to Mississippi State. My dad knew Mississippi State’s head coach, Ron Polk, so I had that connection too. I remember when the Giants came to Philadelphia, I was able to get Will Clark’s autograph on the Mississippi State baseball media guide. There was a picture of Will and Rafael Palmeiro on the cover and any kid that got something like that signed by a player, it made a fan out of them. I got to talk to him a little too and he really was just my idol at that time and of course both of them had great careers.

As far as pitchers, I looked up to Tom Glavine. The Braves were always on TV and Glavine was a lefty, so I really enjoyed watching him pitch.

“ I just ate, slept and breathed baseball growing up ”

Those are some great players to look up to. Sounds like you really loved baseball as a kid. Can you tell us about your start in the game as a young player?

I just ate, slept and breathed baseball growing up. I had a batting cage in my backyard and from the time I was eight years old, me, my dad and brother practiced every day. We hit and threw every day and when I lived in New Jersey, if it was cold, we would practice in our basement. I had a lot of talent, but I have to thank my dad for really putting the time into making sure that I stayed on my regimen and was always in tip-top shape. My dad got an old tennis net and sewed it together and we would throw into that net.

I played a lot of soccer growing up in New Jersey too and was actually really good. Our team was state champions three years in a row. But then I moved to Texas, and it’s all football there. So, with soccer out of the picture, I really got to focus on baseball when I was about 13 or 14 years old.

I grew up in New Jersey too and know that Cherry Hill was a big sports town. Not just baseball, but it seemed like their high school teams were among the best in every sport.

I was a pretty good pitcher as youngster growing up in Cherry Hill. We were on some great youth teams. When I was 11, we made it all the way to the Little League Regional Finals where we lost to that Trumbull, Connecticut team that went on to win the Little League World Series in 1989. They were led by Chris Drury, who went on to play in the NHL.

Then, when I was 12, my dad saw that I had the potential to be a pretty good baseball player, especially as a left-handed pitcher, so we moved to Texas. He wanted to get us to warmer weather and get around some more colleges and living in Texas offered that. I grew up and was pretty successful in high school and ended up being a seventh-round draft pick in 1996 by the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was the first draft in franchise history for them. But I chose to go to college instead and ended up at Texas A&M. We made the College World Series my junior year and then I ended up being a first-round pick in 1999 by the Red Sox.

I know you’re a humble guy, but Texas A&M didn’t just make the College World Series. You played a huge role in getting them there. I have seen the video of the final out. Can you talk a little about that series?

Yes, we were playing Clemson and I believe it was the first year the NCAA started their Super Regionals. I pitched Friday night and we won that, but then we lost Game 2 on Saturday. We had to win Game 3 and Coach said they may need me. I said, “OK,” and in about the fifth inning, I came in the game. I was like, “OK, let’s see what I got.”

We were down, but two of our players hit back-to-back home runs to put us ahead. Once that happened, adrenaline just took over and I’m thinking that we’re going to the series and they’re not gonna stop us. I struck out the last batter of the game. It was really exciting.

We had great fans at Texas A&M, especially for a college baseball team. We had a beautiful facility and just a great atmosphere at our games. I have so many great memories and made a lot of good friends. I also got to play for Team USA for two summers and made some great friends there too.

I played with and against many players who I would then play against in the Majors. That made the transition easier actually. I remember one game I heard someone call me by my first name and I looked over and it was Kip Wells, who I played college baseball against. I just thought, “Oh, that’s pretty cool. I guess maybe I do belong here.”

There were a lot of guys like that. Jason Tyner was a teammate and he went on to play for the Rays. Eric Munson and Brian Roberts were on Team USA with me. I played high school baseball with Jason Jennings and then he went to Baylor, so I played against him in college. Jeff Weaver was another, so was Adam Everett. There’s really quite a bit and I’m leaving a lot out.

Fossum with the Texas A&M Aggies

You made it up to the Majors pretty quick, after just two and a half seasons in the minors. The Red Sox called you up in 2001 and they were just starting to sow the seeds of that 2004 team that finally broke the curse. What was it like going into that clubhouse for the first time and being teammates with guys like Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez and everyone else?

I was in Spring Training with them for a couple of weeks, but they really didn’t talk to me. I just did my own thing and they were getting ready for the season. Then I got called up in July and Jimy Williams was the manager at the time. I just remember the first time Pedro shook my hand and said hi to me. I’m just like, “Oh my God, I’m here in the Majors.” There were other guys like Manny Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra, Bret Saberhagen, David Cone. Everywhere I looked in the locker room there was a superstar.

Then Jimy Williams gets fired and so did some other guys. Then 9/11 happened and things were just a mess. We had a good thing starting, but that season there were just so many distractions. They hired Joe Kerrigan to replace Jimy then Grady Little the next year. They were talking about selling the team too. There were too many distractions and guys weren’t happy. A lot of them just wanted the season to end so they could go home. I didn’t want the season to end because I had just made it up to the big leagues.

That’s a rough start for sure. So much talent on that team, but that’s a lot for a team to overcome.

Yes, but the next year they kind of figured everything out. I felt more comfortable in Spring Training, but they didn’t really have a spot for me. They actually called me up in 2002 because they wanted to trade me. I was literally about to get traded for Kenny Rogers and he told me this story about ten years later. We ended up playing Anaheim and I pitched great. I gave up like one run and got the win. There was a press conference set up to announce a trade, that’s how close it was. But after that start, at the last minute, the Red Sox were like, “Well now we’re gonna keep him.”

In 2002, I was fighting for a spot in Spring Training and I was throwing like 96, which I had never thrown that hard in my life. I ended up making the team out of Spring Training and was a setup man and if our closer, Ugueth Urbina wasn’t available, I would be the closer. But at the time, Theo Epstein was the Assistant GM and I ended up getting sent down after about 30 appearances because he wanted me to become a starter. At the time, I didn’t want to be sent down, but now that look back on it, they knew what they were doing. They saw me as a starter and knew what they wanted to do.

Then in ’03 we started to get closer. We had [David] Ortiz, Johnny Damon, Derek Lowe. We had a real good team. We got close and were in the playoffs, but I got hurt during the end of the season then I got traded in the offseason and wasn’t there in ’04.

That was the trade that brought Curt Schilling to Boston, who obviously had a huge role in getting the Red Sox over the hump. Can you talk about what it was like to be a part of that trade and just to get traded in general?

Well, I didn’t even know that you could get traded after having surgery. I remember it was Thanksgiving Day [in 2003] and they hadn’t announced anything yet, but momentum was building. I remember seeing my name scrolling across the bottom of the screen on ESPN. Curt had accepted the trade and I was going to Arizona, which was OK. My dad is from Phoenix and I was drafted by them once before, so I guess it was ironic that’s where I eventually ended up.

I was just coming off surgery and they stuck with me as a starter. I got to play with some great pitchers like Randy Johnson and Brandon Webb. It was a good experience for one year and then I got traded to Tampa.

In Tampa is where I finally felt settled down. The game kind of slowed down for me and I felt really comfortable there. But then I ended up getting hurt again. Injuries started to take a toll. I was a smaller guy, not the most intimidating pitcher in the league but I could still throw hard. I had a different kind of delivery and just used every part of my body and eventually it just took a toll.

Looking back on your time in Boston, you were with the Sox when they started the process of taking over as the top team in the American League East from the Yankees. It took a few years, but they got there. Those were some heated times. Can you talk about that Yankees-Red Sox rivalry?

You know, I think the fans were more into the rivalry than the players. For players, it’s just another game and we’re playing in Yankee Stadium. But I think the fans got more into it than the players. When I was at Texas A&M, we had the big rivalry with Texas, and it may have been even more intense. We hated the Longhorns and the fans were really into it. But in the Majors, we’re professionals. We have to focus on the game and not what’s going on around the game and that’s what I did.

 

I wanted to ask about your first Major League win. You had pitched an inning in a couple games and then in your third game, you got your first win against the Rangers. You’re a Texas guy and you had to come into a game as a 23-year old and face Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro and Pudge Rodriguez. What do you remember about your first win?

I couldn’t worry about facing guys like that, I just had to trust my stuff and hope my stuff was better than them in that at bat. That’s kind of always how I looked at things. I never backed down. I was never afraid to throw inside to people. I just really believed I belonged there, and I would keep telling myself that I was as good as those guys.

But looking back, that was cool to face those guys and the Rangers that I grew up watching. But you know, the funny thing about that game was that our catcher, Scott Hatteberg, hit into a triple play and also hit a grand slam in the game. I think it had only happened once before, so I didn’t get to keep the lineup card from my first win. It was sent to the Hall of Fame. I do still have the game ball though, it’s somewhere in my house.

That’s a pretty amazing story about your first win! Switching gears from baseball, you and your wife have an interest in horses. I know you have miniature horses as pets and you and your wife have an interesting endeavor with retired racehorses. How did you get involved with horses after your career?

I have known my wife [Kadette] since we were 11 and she had always been into horses growing up, but over time, that kind of faded away. One day I was at a wedding with my in-laws and we were riding horses and I was like, man that was fun. So, we’re sitting there at this wedding and I’m looking at horses on my phone. This thoroughbred pops up and he was running and just looked great. His name was Stroll On Down. As soon as we got back home, we called up and ended up getting him. Then we got another one so we could both ride. I learned how to ride and jump and it was a lot of fun. Then my wife got another one and it all started up.

You know, I kind of look at it like my life in baseball. There were times when I was hurt and nobody wanted me. These horses, they get off the track and need a job. They can’t run anymore and they’re great horses. And my wife, she loved being involved with horses again. She was like, “You know what, this is what I want to do. I want to rescue, adopt and rehome these horses.” We’ve rehomed several horses. My wife rescues and trains these horses to jump when they get off the track. It’s just like letting them be a horse.

You get the horses off the track and they’ll do anything for you. They’re really amazing. And you know, I always say every time we save a horse, we save a human life too because horses can be so therapeutic for people in need. So that’s really rewarding. She rehomes these horses to someone that really can enjoy them and who needs them. It just makes everyone happy.

Kadette Fossum with Duey - one of the couple’s pair of mini horses

That’s really great on so many levels. In doing research for this, I read about your mini horses too. Can you talk about them? I thought they were really amazing.

Yes, we have two miniature horses. We rescued the first one from a kill pen one day away from going to Mexico to get slaughtered. We brought him back here and he was skittish at first for about a week or two, but then he really got comfortable. He stays outside but knows how to knock on our door in the morning to come inside. He goes to nursing homes and other places and makes people happy. He really is just like a little human being. He’s great. We got our first miniature, Duey, about a year and a half ago and the other one, Dazzy, a couple of months ago. They’re about 32 inches tall and Dazzy is 13 years old and Duey is five.

I live in a quiet neighborhood and we walk them around. People stop and take pictures, and everybody wants to pet them. They really bring smiles to people’s faces and that’s what it’s all about.

Now that’s some visual. And you’re in the process of starting a foundation for rescuing horses?

Yes, it’s called Horse S.H.O.E. and it stands for Safe Haven on Earth. We just want to give these horses a second chance in life. That’s our passion in life. It was really nice that my wife brought this passion to me and I was able to help bring that passion back to her. It’s been so great.

Kadette has a big following on Facebook and we get a lot of leads on horses that need rescue from there. We save them from kill pens and have also made connections with several trainers in Kentucky and Texas and they connect us too. There are about 22,000 racehorses born each year, so you gotta figure that’s 22,000 that are coming off the track with not much to do. They all need a forever home and we try to help with that. We have several tracks where we can just go and talk to trainers and tell them when they’re ready, send them to us and we can rehome them.

Casey with one of his rescued thoroughbreds - Photo: Horse S.H.O.E.

This has to be one of the more unique paths I’ve heard a player take after his career ended. But that’s really fantastic you and your wife do that. I really love to hear about this and I’m sure you bring a lot of happiness to people and horses alike. Wrapping it up, do you have any final thoughts you’d like to leave our readers with?

I am just thankful I was able to play for as long as I did. I got to play with Hall of Famers and great players. I made a lot of friends and have so many great memories. I’m very humble about it. I could meet someone three or four times before they know I was a Major League pitcher. I like to stay private. Don’t get me wrong, if someone wants to talk baseball or my career, I love to do that, but I’m enjoying what I am doing now.

Baseball was fun, but it really was a grind. I had to pick up and move so many times. I’d be somewhere for three or four months, then have to pick up and move somewhere else and then do it all over again a few months later. I spent a lot of time going to the field wondering if I would be traded or be sent down, you just never knew what was going to happen day to day and that’s tough. So now things are settled down and I am very happy with what we’re doing now.

You can learn more about the Fossums’ equine endeavors and Horse S.H.O.E. by visiting https://horseshoe.gives. According to the website, “The mission of Horse S.H.O.E. is based on a proven reality of the human-horse relationship, Save a Horse, Save a Human.” Horse S.H.O.E. has a primary purpose to rescue hoses, ponies, and miniature horses from being destroyed, then allowing them to heal, be trained and placed in a forever home. This will allow them to live out their life in a safe, loving new home.”

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book will be out in April 2021.

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