FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox first baseman Triston Casas never steps into the batter’s box on an empty stomach.
He has a snack before every at-bat.
“I feel like three hours is a long time to be exerting such an amount of energy and just to be eating bubblegum and sunflower seeds,” says the 6-foot-4-inch, 252-pound rookie. “I think about my body like a fire. Now, if you want a long-burning fire, you throw big logs. If you want a fast-burning fire, you throw twigs.”
Sometimes he grabs a banana or the team nutritionist provides him with healthy fruit snacks. He usually eats in the batting cage behind the dugout while he studies the opposing pitcher on TV.
“I like watching the game on TV better than in person, honestly,” says Casas. “I like to see the pitch movement.”
Baseball and food are his life. He loves to cook.
“I don’t really have any hobbies or talents,” says Casas, 23, who was ranked the top Red Sox prospect in 2021 by Baseball America.
He can play the piano and enjoys bass fishing, but there is little time for that now.
“Baseball is what I do all day, every day,” he says. “I eat, sleep, breathe, live, and play it. I come home and I cook, and I sit a little bit on the couch, and I go to sleep and wake up and do it again. I find a lot of joy in it, and it makes me happy.”
So, what’s for dinner?
“Tonight, I think I’m going to make Puzzle Piece Potato Salmon Sliders,” he says.
After practice, Casas heads to the local supermarket. Don’t expect him to buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, though.
He heads straight for the fish counter. He addresses the counter help by first name as he picks two choice salmon fillets. Then he grabs a bag of lemons, dark brown sugar, organic cilantro, rosemary, and Sweet Baby Ray’s Hickory BBQ sauce. He inspects the avocados carefully, as if he’s studying the spin on a 95-mile-per-hour slider. Nobody recognizes him.
The recipe for tonight’s dinner is not written down, and he won’t give it up.
“Well, if I tell you, you’ll never come back, you’ll just keep doing it for yourself,” he says with a laugh.
He never uses a timer and never measures anything.
The salmon will be slow-cooked on the grill after it is drizzled with just a little virgin olive oil.
“I try to keep it light with the salmon because it’s so fatty,” he says. “I put on a little fish blend [seasoning], just a little Himalayan sea salt, a little lemon pepper garnishment, and I’m putting a little garlic paste on right now.
“I’m going to put some lemon on it to give it a little accent, probably around the pan, mostly to just not have it be overpowering. But I got the potatoes going [on the stove] right now, which are going to be our base.”
The white potatoes stay in the pot, while the sweet potatoes are moved to the outside grill and dusted with brown sugar and a touch of butter.
“And then I’m going to put a smooth avocado paste over the potatoes topped with salmon. A little bit of barbecue sauce, a little bit of rosemary [and cilantro]. It’s going to go great.”
A premium on nutrition
Casas has the same passion talking about caramelizing sweet potatoes as he does about taking Gerrit Cole deep.
“I think I make more people happy with my food than my hitting,” he says with a smile.
“I used to be fat. So that’s why I take a lot of pride in what I eat because I know my weight can fluctuate so drastically. If I eat bad for a weekend, I can put on 5 or 6 pounds. But if I eat well for a week, I can drop 10. So just really making sure I’m aware of what I’m putting into my body.”
He alternates steak, chicken, fish, and sushi during the week.
“I can make just about anything,” he says. “I try to not overcomplicate it.”
None of his recipes are from cookbooks or the Food Network. Casas doesn’t watch those shows.
He says good nutrition makes him a better ballplayer.
“I eat a big hearty, protein, carb, sugar-packed breakfast,” he says, “with snacks in the middle of the day, a protein shake for lunch, typically some supplements, a little bit of chia seed flaxseed for some texture, and a salad.
“I feel like eating and cooking is such a huge important part of life because what you put in your body directly affects how you feel. It affects how you perform; it affects your neurological systems.”
With the average major league fastball now topping 95 miles per hour, he needs all the help he can get.
“I believe hitting is the most difficult thing in the world,” he contends. “You’re dealing with milliseconds of reaction time, fractions of centimeters on the bat for margin for error at so many variations of velocities, which is the beauty of baseball, the unpredictability of it.
“For me, you have to be going up there thinking you’re going to swing and then make a decision not to. Because if you’re trying to make that decision as it’s coming to you, it’s too late.”
An inherited work ethic
As techno music pulsates from a speaker on the kitchen counter, Casas hustles to the grill to check on the fish.
Sushi is his favorite food, and he feasted on it as an Olympian at the Tokyo Games in August 2021. Because of a COVID scare, he was moved out of the Olympic Village and into a hotel with a great sushi restaurant.
“I had a feast every night,” he says. “And one of the nights I had a really nice boat of Japanese authentic nigiri and sashimi. So yeah, that’s cool.”
Team USA was beaten by Japan in the final but Casas took home a silver medal.
“I have no idea where it is,” he says. “That just means second place to me.”
And second place is unacceptable.
Casas inherited his work ethic from his family, which fled Cuba. Jose, his American-born father, ran a trucking and construction company and was out the door by 5:30 in the morning.
From the time Casas was 3, his father had a plan for him “to maximize my potential and to be one of the best baseball players to ever put on a pair of spikes,” he says.
Casas was home-schooled for much of middle school and high school in Pembroke Pines, Fla. He even repeated seventh grade, but not because of bad grades.
“Athletically, I wasn’t keeping pace with the kids in my grade,” he says. “The transition from the smaller field, aluminum bats, shorter bases, shorter mound, to now the bigger field, wood bats, major league dimensions, it was tough for me.”
Initially he was passed over by USA Baseball at a tournament in Jupiter, Fla. The 14-year-old Casas cried on the field, in the elevator, and in his hotel room.
“And ultimately, I told myself I’m never going to feel like this again,” he remembers. “And I hated that feeling. Hated it. And that was really the last time that I felt like that.”
Goals for this season
Casas became a three-time gold medalist with USA Baseball.
In 2017, he was named tournament MVP of the U-18 World Cup after leading Team USA to the championship. His face was plastered on Team USA posters.
“I remember looking at it,” he says. “I was like, ‘Man, just three years ago I hated USA Baseball. I didn’t want to play baseball any more after that. And now I’m the face of USA Baseball.’ ”
Staying healthy this season is his top priority. He came home early from winter ball in the Dominican Republic because of a knee injury. He says he’s 100 percent now and his goals are team-oriented.
“I feel like it’s not a good mind-set to go up and try to hit a home run every time,” he says. “I feel like expectations are limitations as well.”
He also believes in his ability to make adjustments. He is a student of every aspect of the game.
“I think saying that I want to hit 30 home runs this year if I get 150 games might be an understatement,” he says. “I think I’m capable of that or more.”
He says if he wasn’t a baseball player, he would have been a lawyer.
“I like confrontation,” he says. “People talking bad about me, people talking good about me. I laugh about it, and it doesn’t affect me. Nothing bothers me.”
What about those people who smirk about his .197 batting average as a September call-up last season?
“The .197 is what it was,” he says. “I started off at 3 for 40.”
He finished with a .766 OPS to go along with 5 home runs and 12 RBIs in 27 games. He walked 20 percent of the time, the third-best percentage in the majors after Sept. 1.
“There were so many things off the field that I was adjusting to,” he says, “and I think if you compare my first 95 at-bats to a lot of other major league stars, I’m hanging right in there with them.”
Sunbathing and painted nails
Casas is one of a kind. Last September, he was criticized for napping in the clubhouse before games. He also would sunbathe in just shorts in the Fenway Park outfield after doing yoga.
“Are you [expletive] kidding me?” one veteran pitcher told Chris Cotillo of MassLive.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora told Casas to go up to the Coke deck because it’s “actually closer to the sun.”
Casas says he loves Cora.
“He’s awesome with me,” Casas says. “He’s very fair. If he doesn’t like something, he’ll tell me about it and we’ll talk about it.”
This offseason, Casas painted his nails black after having a pedicure with his stepmother as a bonding experience.
At family functions, he got some grief from his loving grandmother, aunts, and cousins.
“They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s wrong with this guy?’ ” he says.
“I felt like it was challenging my vulnerability a little bit. So if I could deal with my family, I felt like I could deal with anybody.”
He says he’s starting a foundation to raise awareness for different causes. He painted his nails bright red, even though he says that’s not his MO.
“The whole ideology of this campaign is to be yourself no matter what,” he says. “I’m taking a stand for people who are afraid to be themselves. I don’t want to just be another player. I want to do good.”
Periodically he will change the nail color to support other causes. Some of his teammates still bust his chops.
“I’ve heard it from a couple of guys,” he says. “But that’s OK. I’m comfortable with my own skin. I don’t resent them for making fun of me because they aren’t on the same level of connectivity with themselves as to put themselves out there and be vulnerable to criticism.”
Dinner is served
Casas says baseball is his first priority. Nobody will outwork him.
“I strive to be the best,” he says. “And anybody who doesn’t have that same ambition I’m going to leave behind because I wake up with that hunger every single day.”
Speaking of hunger, night has fallen and Casas uses his cell phone flashlight to finish grilling.
Casas meticulously assembles his guest’s plate and then holds it up for closer inspection. He softly recites something that is impossible to hear, like those baseball conversations where everybody covers their mouth. He looks like a modern-day Mark Fidrych, who appeared to talk to the baseball when he was on the mound.
“I’m blessing the food,” says Casas. “Bon appetit.”
He doesn’t bother to completely prepare his own dish, and won’t accept some of the fully dressed sliders.
“It’s not about me,” he says. “I’ve made this before.”
The dish is a culinary home run, a juicy blend of palate-pleasing flavors. There are no leftovers. Casas serves a mug of Kombucha tea to wash it down with. And he suggests it’s time to do shots — ginger shots with turmeric, oregano, and cayenne pepper.
“Good for digestion, inflammation, and immune [system],” he says.
“It’s not for little boys. It’s no joke. You’re going to need to chase it up. You need to eat these dates [dipped in Manuka honey].”
A toast is made to an amazing journey and good karma. It’s a sweet way to end the night.
“It’s going to be a long journey, for sure,” says Casas. “And I just want to help people. That’s all.”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at email@example.com.