Rheault, Crosby have high hopes if MLB season does happen
The winding road zigged and zagged more than a few times.
Somehow it led to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as two suburban Chicago baseball players looked for a team and found a fresh start.
Drawn together by Midwestern roots, Kaneland graduate Casey Crosby and Glenbard South graduate Dylan Rheault became throwing partners and pitchers with the Lancaster Barnstormers of the independent Atlantic League. For three weeks at the end of last season, they flashed their arms and talked about their journeys through the fickle world of professional baseball.
The same question swirled in both minds: What are you doing here?
"I don't know if there's a nastier-throwing partner than Casey," said Rheault, 28. "It was scary. I felt like a little kid trying to catch him."
Crosby, 31, was the can't-miss prospect snagged straight out of high school by the Detroit Tigers in the fifth round of the 2007 Major League Baseball amateur draft. A few years later Rheault left Glenbard South for Central Michigan University. In 2013 the 6-foot-9 specimen was drafted in the 18th round by the Baltimore Orioles.
Everything went as planned. Until it didn't.
"Here I am in 2007, a high draft pick and a prospect," Crosby said. "Injuries happened and it took a while to figure it out."
Last year both pitched well enough to sign in the off-season with MLB teams, Rheault with the Reds and Crosby with the Dodgers.
When baseball resumes, so does the dream.
One step forward, two back
Most players don't bounce back from three elbow surgeries, and Crosby nearly didn't.
The first, Tommy John surgery in 2007, delayed his MLB debut with the Tigers until 2012. The second, a clean out in 2013, caused his release after the 2014 season.
He was also signed and released by the Red Sox, which led to his return to school to get his accounting degree at Northern Illinois University. Crosby worked at a bank until a comeback in the Twins organization ended with another clean out surgery in 2018.
That third surgery seemed to do the trick, though. In 2019 he pitched well with the Chicago Dogs and Lancaster.
"It was basically a career-saver for me," Crosby said. "I've felt good ever since."
Rheault also endured. Control and confidence issues haunted him in the Orioles organization, forcing his release after the 2015 season. He pitched in an independent league and was signed and cut by the San Francisco Giants after a concussion kept him out for nine weeks. Before last season he was signed and released by the St. Louis Cardinals due to an injury.
Along the way he figured out his body. He honed his skills through Driveline Baseball, a data-driven training regiment, and Rapsodo pitching technology.
In 2015 Rheault averaged 87 mph with his fastball. With renewed confidence and improved technique, he's now hitting 99.
"Getting released was the best thing that happened to me because it woke me up," Rheault said. "Every time I was released it was because I wasn't doing something right. I knew if I fixed those, I'd improve.
"I feel like I'm a completely different person and pitcher, he said. "I know I have the ability to pitch in the big leagues."
At Lancaster the two worlds converged. Rheault taught Crosby the benefits of Driveline and Rapsodo while Crosby's yoga and mind training influenced Rheault.
They were ready to take another shot at the bigs.
"I don't want to give up until I know I've done everything," Rheault said. "If I'm not good enough, that's fine. But if I haven't done enough, that's not OK."
Uphill and downhill
After the 2019 season ended Crosby figured he was done with baseball. Unless an opportunity emerged with MLB, he planned to become a CPA and live happily ever after with his young family.
Supporting his wife and two daughters while playing independent baseball simply wasn't an option.
"I was pretty much set that I couldn't go back to indy ball," Crosby said. "I pitched pretty well last year, and if I couldn't get signed after that, I figured it wasn't in the cards."
Rheault, in Arizona after signing with the Reds, flew to Chicago in early November to help Crosby put together a pitching video. Crosby started at 97 mph, boosted to 98 and mixed in a variety of pitches.
The video spread on Twitter just before Thanksgiving. In early December, Crosby signed with the Dodgers.
A shortened spring training due to the COVID-19 pandemic cut Rheault's mound time to one MLB appearance with the Reds. Crosby managed two with the Dodgers.
Still, they impressed. Crosby even hit 100 mph.
"My ultimate goal is to be in the big leagues with the Reds for a playoff run," Rheault said. "I've had it taken away from me when I felt like I was right on the verge. I plan on doing it this time."
Rheault awaits the restart of the season in Arizona so he'll be ready to report in an instant. Crosby is working out at home in Elburn when he isn't repairing the family's washing machine.
What started in Lancaster eventually will continue with the Reds and Dodgers.
That winding road still has a couple more twists left in it.
"As long as I can maintain being able to support my family and play, I'm going to play," Crosby said. "You just have to do what you can to show how you can help out a major league team."