Wichita State fans aren’t known for their affection for umpires. They might open their hearts a bit — at least until next season — while they celebrate Tampa Bay picking first baseman Casey Gillaspie in the first round of baseball’s draft on Thursday.
The Shockers can thank an umpire for Gillaspie and older brother Conor, both pointed out by Bill McGuire, who umpires college baseball around the Midwest. McGuire lives in Omaha, watches and talks a lot of baseball and enjoys helping athletes find the right college home.
He played for WSU assistant coach Brent Kemnitz in Alaska in the early 1980s, starting the connection with WSU baseball. When a kid can play in Nebraska, McGuire usually knows. Kemnitz credits him for helping WSU with the Gillaspies and junior pitcher A.J. Ladwig, among others.
McGuire, 50, puts all the credit for developing two first-round pick on their father, Mark Gillaspie, an All-American outfielder at Mississippi State. Both are blessed with great command of the strike zone. Casey is bigger by about four inches and 40 pounds and hits with more power. McGuire expects him to hit 25-30 home runs in the majors one day.
“Neither one of them is as good as their dad is,” McGuire said.
Conor, who played third base at WSU from 2006-08, was a great high school hitter in Omaha. Nebraska didn’t think he could play third base. He didn’t want to go to Creighton. McGuire recommended WSU. Shocker coaches watched him at a tournament in Oklahoma where he put up big numbers and a match was made.
“Conor was a no-brainer in high school,” McGuire said. “He was one of those guys you couldn’t get out. Nebraska didn’t have a spot for him and wasn’t giving him a look.”
Gillaspie came to WSU and worked on his defense with assistant coach Jim Thomas. He emerged as middle-of-the-order hitter as a freshman and led the Shockers in RBI all three seasons. San Francisco drafted him No. 37 overall in 2008.
“They taught him how to play third base,” McGuire said.
Soon after, McGuire told WSU coaches Conor’s brother was coming along with more power. Casey Gillaspie hesitated to follow his brother.
“I told Casey go to Wichita and make Wichita forget about your brother,” McGuire said. “His dad wanted him to go to Wichita State because Conor had such a good experience.”
McGuire played at Nebraska and Seattle picked him in the first round in 1985. He briefly played in the majors in 1988 and 1989 for the Mariners. His connection with baseball now is as an umpire. WSU isn’t the only school to benefit from his eye for talent and he sees no conflict of interest with his work as an umpire.
“There's nothing that's going to inhibit me from calling the game as I see it,” he said. “Ask Casey. I’ve punched him out before.”
Seton Hall, coached by Kevin Willard, went 17-17 last season, 6-12 in the Big East. Three of his top four scorers were seniors, including center Gene Teague, who started his career at Southern Illinois.
The Shockers will play Tulsa, Alabama and Saint Louis at home and travel to Detroit and play at Utah on Dec. 3. They play Memphis in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Nov. 18. WSU also plays in the Diamond Head Classic, beginning Dec. 22 in Honolulu, with Nebraska, Colorado, Ohio, DePaul, Loyola Marymount, Hawaii and George Washington.
Adding Seton Hall means WSU is looking for two games, both home games, to complete its schedule.
WSU last played the Pirates in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, defeating them 86-66 in Greensboro, N.C.