By Bob Sutton
Special to The Alamance News
As a recent graduate of Eastern Alamance High School, Kasen McCawley was looking to pad his baseball background in summer-ball situations geared for college players.
Three teams with three leagues later, consider that accomplished.
“Three was great,” McCawley said. “I wanted to kind of see where I was and get ready to face college-level competition. I got a little bit of everything.”
So before he went off to UNC Pembroke, where he’s expected to be an infielder and pitcher, he packed his summer with a variety of experiences.
It began with the Swepsonville Sweepers of the Old North State League, which is a relatively new summer circuit. McCawley, 18, excelled with the Sweepers, becoming an ONSL All-Star Game selection.
The Sweepers’ season ended, but the Coastal Plain League, which is a more established summer league, was still going. The Holly Springs Salamanders had unexpected roster openings, and McCawley became one of three Sweepers to fill in.
That was a short-term situation of just a couple of games as the Salamanders were wrapping up their schedule.
“I was kind winding down the summer,” he said.
Then word was passed along that the Burlington Sock Puppets of the Appalachian League needed pitchers. Soon, McCawley received a text message from Sock Puppets general manager Anderson Rathbun.
“We ran into a little bit of a buzzsaw at the end of the year with having available players,” Rathbun said. “We found out about him and it worked out great. He was all in.”
The Sock Puppets were a second-year team, and McCawley had never attended one of their games. He was familiar with Burlington Athletic Stadium having seen the now-defunct Burlington Royals play there.
“I was definitely excited to do that,” McCawley said of joining the Sock Puppets. “The competition level there was crazy. I never thought I’d be on that level.”
The new-look Appalachian League is plugged as a summer league for young prospects, overseen by Major League Baseball with player personnel input from USA Baseball. In a short time, McCawley said he noticed the difference with the commitment level of his new teammates.
“Seeing how they went about their business and how they took care of their bodies,” he said. “They were serious about getting their stuff done.”
McCawley was with the Sock Puppets to finish the last homestand and for the final road trip before the one-game Appalachian League title game. He made a couple of appearances, including a notable relief effort.
“He came in and got out of the inning in a high-leverage situation,” Rathbun said.
Rathbun said McCawley might have been the youngest player in the Appalachian League.
A busy slate is normal for McCawley, who played football, basketball and baseball for Eastern Alamance. As a youngster, he was around championship-level Cummings football teams with his father, Danny McCawley, on the staff there before going to Eastern Alamance.
During fall-semester workouts at UNC Pembroke, the younger McCawley has been slotted at shortstop and on the mound.
McCawley said a spot on a 2023 Appalachian League team roster, perhaps with the Sock Puppets, will be one of his goals as he goes through his first college season.
“I would love to go back and play in Burlington,” he said. “Burlington was just different. It got me ready to come here (to UNC Pembroke).”
Rathbun said having players with local connections is a plus for the Sock Puppets.
“I hope that our roster trends in that direction,” Rathbun said.