Photos by Paul Flessland
Bison baseball volunteer assistant coach almost never played Division I baseball because he was constantly getting overlooked because of his 5’10 frame. But he never gave up on the game he loved and turned a life of never going to college into a four-year starting shortstop at NDSU. Max Casper played in his fifth season professionally this summer and is back this school year to coach the game he loves at the university that gave him his chance to prove he could play at college’s highest level.
Bison Illustrated: How did you land in Fargo?
Max Casper: “I had a couple Division III offers … Otherwise, it was don’t go to college and get a job, or go play Division II baseball type of thing. Then, I was in a senior All-Star tournament, the Lions All-Star Game, my senior year and I had a pretty good weekend and Monday morning I had a bunch of different calls from a bunch of different schools, junior colleges that were interested and North Dakota State was one of them so I stayed in contact with them quite a bit more than some of the other ones. They wanted me to come up and they knew we were looking for infielders. It was all real late, but it was fun. … I don’t think I committed until – and I know you can ask Coach Brown this, too because I got him all worked up and worried about it – I don’t think I committed until August 18 maybe and school started the 23rd.”
BI: Which players were recruiting you?
MC: “John Straka* was one of them. I ended up rooming with him for three years. He probably called me more than Coach Pearson did, trying to get me to come up. He was excited to have me interested in coming up and playing for four years. I played against him forever.”
*John Straka went 22-11 in his career at NDSU and ended with a career ERA of 2.56. He holds or shares eight different school pitching records.
BI: Why did you get your shot?
MC: “When I came in, they kind of said the plan for me was to sit for two years and probably play my junior and senior years because we had another kid coming in from junior college. He’s been drafted, real good. And he was going to play shortstop, switch-hitter, the whole works. Things didn’t work out with him, that home-sick kind of thing and ended up leaving school in November and dropped out and was just gone. So I went in for my meeting in the fall and he said you’ve proved to us you’re ready for a role this year, you’re right with him, and when he dropped out, they called me back in and they were like, ‘Well, the job is yours. Take it and run with it, separate yourself and don’t leave any doubt for anybody else.’”
BI: What’s the treatment like of scholarship athletes compared to non-scholarship athletes?
MC: “It really doesn’t matter if you’re getting any scholarship money if you’re not getting any scholarship money. If you beat a guy out, you’re going to play. It works. It’s worked out in the past and it’s worked out now, and I would expect it to continue to work out for us.”
BI: What’s your advice for other walk-ons?
MC: “Just always play with that chip on your shoulder. There’s always going to be somebody bigger, always going to be somebody faster, stronger, that hits for more power, that hits from the other side, that’s smarter, that has more accolades or whatever. But, there’s no excuse for somebody working harder than you. I still use that as I’m playing now. I’m still 5’10’’, 170 pounds, and there’s not much to me.”
BI: When did you know you wanted to coach?
MC: “I would say my first offseason. There was nothing for me to really do and I was just lifting and whatever, and it felt like there was something empty when it came to the college baseball season. I wanted to start giving back to the game early enough and I was able to do the student assistant (at NDSU) because I hadn’t graduated yet.”
BI: What’s you endgame with coaching?
MC: “I’d like to coach at the highest level I can. At the highest level I can coach at, the best school I can coach at. If you offered me the job at Texas tomorrow, would I say no to it? Absolutely not.”