Honkers broadcaster shaken by player's death
Mike Wagenheim remembers getting off the bus Sunday night, shaking hands and saying goodbye to Mitch Caster.
"He was cleaning his stuff off the bus and I just told him, ‘good season, and see you in the future,' '' Wagenheim said. "As usual, he had a big smile on his face.
''He was making the transition from outfielder to pitcher. His fastball was in the low 90s, not great, but he was learning the command of his pitches and that kind of stuff. As a pitcher, he was heading in the right direction.''
Caster, though, a Rochester Honkers pitcher and outfielder, died in a car accident early the next morning outside of Des Moines. He was 21.
Wagenheim got to know Caster through his duties as the Honkers' radio play-by-play announcer.
"I can't tell you I was a close, close friend,'' said Wagenheim, "but I knew him as well as anybody on the club. "You spend 10 or 12 weeks with them and learn what makes them click. But you also learn not to get real close to the players you cover but I was a close enough to Mitch where something like this really shakes you up.
"That was the last piece of news I was expecting on Monday morning.''
Caster pitched two innings in relief on Sunday in the Northwoods League championship game at Eau Claire.
"Whenever Mitch and I would talk, it would generally be non-baseball stuff,'' said Wagenheim, who completed his third year behind the mike for the Honkers. "If there is any silver lining in this — and there isn't — he died doing what he loved most. After playing a baseball game.''
Wagenheim said he treated Caster, and the rest of the Honkers, like little brothers.
"Ten or 12 years ago I was the same age,'' he said, "but now I'm a little older and hopefully a little wiser.
"To me Mitch was like a little brother. He would go into a restaurant and do the things you're not supposed to do, like wearing his baseball cap. But he always had it on. That was Mitch.
"I don't think he ever had a bad day. If he did, he did a great job in hiding it.
"And now he's gone.''
Wagenheim also feels for Jimmy Waters, a Honkers' teammate who witnessed the accident. Both players were on their way to Kansas and their respective schools.
"I can't imagine what Jimmy is going through,'' said Wagenheim.
Wagenheim, who makes his home in Philadelphia, is the director of broadcasting for the University of New Orleans. He serves as the radio play-by-play voice for the Privateer men's and women's basketball teams as well as the baseball team.
He is a 2001 West Virginia graduate with a degree in journalism.
"In 10 years of broadcasting I've never had to deal with something like this before,'' said Wagenheim. "And thankfully so. It's something they don't teach you in journalism school.''
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