Baseball bonds Hayden Hurst and Bengals TE coach Casey

When the call came this time, it stuck. Casey went in the NFL’s fifth round to the hometown Texans and stayed in the league for seven years. Hurst was a first-round pick of the Ravens and now he’s on his third team in his fifth year on a one-year deal. But for a guy that walked on at South Carolina at age 22, he’s used to crucial football seasons.

“It’s crazy with so much of the similarities,” Casey says. “There’s a connection with guys who played minor-league baseball. It’s hard to explain. Just the grind of being on buses all over the place. The (little) locker rooms. Being there in extended spring training. It’s fun to talk. Right now, we’re trying to install the offense, but we’ll be able to tell a bunch of stories.”

They can talk about how they have this in common, too.

“Baseball players are so much different than football players. Baseball players are weird. They’re different,” Hurst says. “Everyone always used to tell me I was a football player playing baseball. I didn’t believe them until I finally made the switch. My personality, I think I’m more intense.”

Casey had people telling him that, too. A quarterback in high school, they said he was a football player on the mound. During batting practice he would barge through the outfield to shag flies. He often thought if he had been a position player he might have had a better shot.

But it wasn’t for not trying. After his stint in the minors, Casey gave independent ball a shot in 2006 for 34 more innings, but there was just no getting around 109 walks in 145 1/3 innings.

Casey’s lack of control wasn’t as spectacular as what happened in Hurst’s well-documented struggles with the yips. Hurst could get on the mound for just 1/3 of an inning with Pittsburgh’s affiliate in the Gulf Coast League in 2013, where he walked all five hitters with two wild pitches. From there it was one long bullpen session and intrasquad game. In 2014, he suggested to the front office a try at first base and designated hitter. He hit .245 in 53 at-bats before turning to football.

“I didn’t love it,” Hurst says. “The lack of success of pitching stole the joy for me. I was pretty much done. I had never been away from home, I was 18 and I wasn’t making the best decisions on and off the field.”

Hurst’s battle with control led to deeper problems and his courageous struggle with alcohol, drugs and depression has become one of the country’s most riveting success stories of the last decade. When he dined with Casey during free agency back in March and began to realize the bond, his phrase, “God works in mysterious ways,” resonated again.

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