Turning the Page

At a smaller Division I school like Marist College, it’s not difficult to put a name to the face of the many athletes competing for the school. After walking around campus for four years with their bright red backpacks and constant Marist Athletics apparel, these athletes have established themselves as just that — athletes. As they round the corner to graduation, the question remains: who are they outside of their sport?

The following story is a part of Center Field’s 19 for ‘19: Stories of the Senior Class series.

*Editor’s Note: The following story contains content that some might find disturbing.

A barista in the Starbucks across the street from Marist College just made a mocha Frappuccino by accident. She announces so, notifying the café’s tenants of its availability to them; “no charge,” she says. A majority of those she’s speaking to have their headphones in, having dedicated every last bit of their attention to a textbook or laptop, existing in a world where this Frappuccino does not. Casey Page, however, looks up, raises her hand, and shouts, “I’ll take it!” I chuckle, as she skips over to the counter, gleefully thanking Breanna for the free drink. “What? I mean, I’m not going to say no.”

I’ve bumped into her here by chance. Our interview was a few weeks back, but Casey is no stranger. She doesn’t act like one at least. We’ve had one class together, a snooze-worthy history course two years removed from our schedules. You’d think our relationship would be purely that of an interviewer and an interviewee, but she conducts herself like an old friend.

Casey is a bubbly, personable senior at Marist studying graphic design and photography who doubles as an outfielder for Marist’s softball team. In between sips of her free mocha Frappe, she tucks her laptop into a vibrant, rainbow laptop case. Also in her bag are keys on a pink, poofy keychain. Everything about her is effervescent.

As she packs up to leave the Starbucks, Frappe in hand, she stops by my table where I happen to be writing a profile about her. “Have you ever wanted to pull a fire alarm?” she asks with a smile. “It’s like when people tell you ‘don’t press the red button.’ Then you’re like, ‘well now I have to.’”

She has been playing softball since she was 4-years-old, but her involvement somehow started far earlier. “This is a funny story,” she says. “My dad was a teacher in Tampa, Fla., and he coached high school softball. So, literally the day after I was born, they had their championship game, and my mom dragged my little newborn self over to the field, and there I was breathing in dirt.”

Growing up, she played basketball, she swam, and she even ran track, but softball was around from the start. “And, it pays for college, so, it’s nice!”

In 31 games this season, Casey boasts career-best numbers in batting average (.373), slugging percentage (.400), on-base percentage (.440), and fielding percentage (1.000). Her coach, Joe Ausanio, tells me, “When we’re successful, she’s usually playing really well for us.” Currently, Marist is 33-20 and 16-4 in MAAC play. Ausanio has a feeling that their success could be directly attributed to Casey, who he calls the team’s “catalyst.”

During her search, other schools emerged on Casey’s list ahead of Marist. Originally from Kennesaw, Ga., the schools on her radar were in much closer proximity to home and warm weather. “I was originally looking at South Carolina,” she said. “I could’ve walked on there… but my dad had gone there, so I wanted something new. And then I committed to East Carolina, which is in North Carolina.” She was relatively set on becoming a Pirate until the coach disappeared from the program. Casey pulled out of the commitment, and developed a new strategy as she looked for schools. “I was like, ‘Oh, what colors are cute?’ I was so annoying.”

But something opened up. “I guess you could say it that way,” she says. “Marist kind of came out of the blue.” Kallen Leeseberg, a current senior and pitcher for the Red Foxes, first committed to Marist. Both from Georgia, Page and Leeseberg had played together prior to being teammates at Marist. When Leeseberg committed, she told Ausanio about Casey, attempting to gage interest. “He was like, ‘I don’t need anyone else, but thank you. I’m just going to come watch you play,’” Casey remembers.

Sure enough, Ausanio comes to their tournament, and Casey catches fire. “I’m a slapper,” she says. Unaware of the softball terminology, I laugh, my brow crinkling. “I literally just bunt and run.” Understood. “I’ll hit a ball to shortstop and just try to run it out. But I ended hitting, like, two or three triples [or doubles] in the games, and had two diving catches.” A smile creeps onto her face as she recalls a storybook, cinematic-type success story. When I ask where that derived, she slaps her knee, chuckles, and says, “Totally the Lord.”

In comparison to a place like Poughkeepsie, N.Y., the South is an alternative utopia. Things move a little slower down there. In chatting with my Tennessean grandmother last week, I learned that, on that day, she and my grandfather had eaten breakfast, watched some of Fox News’ midday programming, and attempted to entice their dog Daisy into taking a bath. She had rolled in poop earlier that day. “Sounds about right,” Casey says.

The people are different, too, not just the vibe. That was something that she had to cope with when she made the transition up North. “Southern people are way different than Northern people,” she said. “Like, down South, people get married now. I have tons of friends that are engaged, married, children, all at my age of 21-22. Like, holy crap! Well, that’s not me.” She describes the typical breakfast, one that actually includes a meal, unlike the fast paced, rushed lifestyle of the North. “It’s slower paced, it’s ‘yes ma’am, no ma’am.’ It’s grits, it’s pancakes, it’s breakfast!”

In particular, though, one glaring difference shone through: faith. The Biblical root in the South is developed and engrained in their culture, and for Casey, it’s something that she lives by. “Gosh, I could talk about faith all day,” she told me, beaming per usual. She was raised in a Christian household by her parents, Colleen and Phillip. “I’m from the non-denominational Baptist category, so I’m not Catholic. We don’t do anything like Confirmation… but we are baptized and we believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and we believe that he’s real.”

She grew up in the Church, believing that her life held a far greater purpose than simply existing or playing softball. Her purpose, as she explains, derives from “the hope of Jesus…that’s what keeps me going in life.” She incorporated that purpose and that hope into her senior thesis project, a photo book titled, “Behind Closed Doors.” The book, one that is remarkably in the midst of the publishing process, deals with mental health, specifically the various emotions associated with mental health concerns.

“It dealt with myself, specifically, dealing with depression, anxiety… I’m showing it through self-portraits,” she says. The pictures themselves are revealing, showcasing the emotions that you or I may experience on a daily basis through intimate, discerning photographs. One depicts a female stripped down to her undergarments, covered in insults (“slut” stands out). The photo, one of 18 portraits, is called “Deceived.”

“It has a very faith based twist on it,” she says. “I believe in a domino effect. If one person opens up about something, then everyone else follows about it, but it takes that one person [to start it]. So for me, telling my own story on something that people ostracize [was important]. People don’t talk about it.

“We’ve had a very high increase in suicide rates. It’s actually surpassing automobile deaths now. Which is kind of scary. But I could have been part of that number.” She begins to bare the wounds inflicted amidst her past struggles, those that first began during her freshman year of high school “but didn’t really increase until freshman year of college.”

Casey struggled, falling into a severe depressive state that, at times, became self-destructive to the point of breaking. It started with her transition from the South to North, then neared its peak when she was faced with the busy lifestyle of a college athlete, and as she began to stray from her faith, things really heightened.

“I am very big into spiritual warfare.” She explains that spiritual warfare includes the things you cannot see, but are still directly affecting you. She points to me, and this explanation becomes interactive. “So, if we’re in a fight, I’m not mad at you. I’m mad at the things I cannot see that are making you have those feelings towards me. There’s always something you can’t see under what you can see.”

This spiritual warfare put Casey against Casey. Self-deprecation became a vice. “In high school and middle school, I just didn’t really have many friends,” she said. “I’m a very outgoing person but I was just so stuck in some rut, I just felt like everyone hated me, and I was worthless and I was disgusting. And I hated it.

“I felt like no one cared about me… like they would never have known that I was going to be gone.”

It’s hard to imagine Casey as someone stuck in a rut. Being aerated isn’t a mere emotion for her, it’s more in her nature. She’s the type of girl who will gladly take a free mocha Frappuccino when everyone else is too nervous to look “fat” or “greedy.” She’s the type of girl to remember that pale-faced kid who spoke twice in their shared history course two years prior to the day they’re sitting down to chat, greeting him with a smile and pure glee. But the transition — as it can be — was injurious, causing detrimental pain to her body and her mind. She’d continue on a track that kept a steady diet of self-deprecation, but would add more vices, those that are perhaps more typical, to the regimen.  

“Going from there, I tried everything,” she said. “I always grew up being the good girl, and I just was like, ‘I’m exhausted… of trying to be this person of faith. I’m tired, and I’m done.’” She began drinking, partying, and interacting with guys on both a flirtatious and sexual level. “I was trying to fill a void. Nothing worked.

“I was also just being like, ‘I grew up in a Christian household, I’ve never seen anything else, so let me explore if this is really something real.’ I trailed off of that. I tried everything to fill a void, and everything left me empty, and worthless,” she said. “When I woke up, I’d feel worse. But I just kept doing it.”

These pains would multiply and manifest themselves inside her. They would evolve, too; she describes these nightmares in which voices would do whatever they could to drag her down, saying things like “you’re not good enough.” In a far worse vein, they’d tell Casey to “‘go and find that rope in the basement,’ ‘go find that gun that your dad keeps in the closet.’ It was words. I can still hear them to this day. People think I’m crazy, but it was loud. It was deafening.”

By junior year, the realizations began to hit. Casey would still deal with vices on occasion, as the pain of depression and anxiety never wholly subsides, but she was able to realize that with Jesus, things were just better. “I was like, ‘Casey, you felt better with Jesus in you. You felt more whole.’”

Before such a revelation, she reached a point where looking at a rope was a message. She would feel someone telling her to “put it on a ceiling,” a feeling that she aptly describes as “horrible.” She tells me that it wasn’t until she “held a rope and was about to become a statistic that [she] heard a voice.” It told her that she was loved, and that her purpose was far from served. “People say, ‘yeah right, Casey,’ but I wouldn’t be sharing this story if it wasn’t something that truly happened.”

When she finally stepped away from the treacherous lifestyle that she upheld for two years, she lost friends. They no longer had anything to say to Casey, anything to gain from her company. “I mean, I still go out,” she explains, citing her appreciation for all the fun that Mahoney’s can offer. “But I won’t be getting plastered anymore. It does nothing for me. It does nothing.”

Softball made an impact. Softball gave Casey something, a desire long sought after. “If you’re someone who’s not playing a sport, you have to find that group,” she says. “I have a select few people on this team that have helped me tremendously to get through the things that I have gone through.” Ausanio, expanding on his previous points, said, “Her energy is almost infectious… She’s just a bright, fun to be around, great personality.”

Nothing provided her with more feeling than her rediscovered faith. Without Jesus in her life, nothing felt real. “He brought me to Marist to impact people,” she says, smiling after just saying His name. “I feel as if… spiritually, it’s not very developed here, and that’s how most colleges are. You can look at statistics. People are not very spiritual or religious at college just because they don’t really have to be. There are so many different things occurring around them that make it easy not to be. So I think coming here and being a light to people who need it has given me a purpose.”

Casey genuinely hopes that her story, one that was both near-crippling and invaluable, can actually make some people consider searching for something far greater than the vices that paralyzed her. “Like I said, to me, everything else feels empty. And I feel like a lot of people keep chasing after these things that are not promising, and they’re trying to fill something that only the Lord can fill. I think that’s my main purpose in being here at Marist.”

Beyond Marist, Casey has plans to pursue a career in academia; she’s slated to become an art teacher at Cass High School in Bartow County, Ga., as well as an assistant coach for their softball team. Cass, a public school, won’t necessarily be a place where Casey can openly utilize religion in lessons. She does, however, hope that she won’t have to. “I would love to have people see Jesus through me without me actually having to tell them that I love Jesus.”

At one of this season’s games that I caught, Casey Page emerges from the depths of the dugout wearing a blue wig. I cannot stress the vibrancy of this fluorescent hairpiece. “That’s our rally wig, man!” Of course it is. Traditionally, the rally headwear of baseball and softball is a cap, turned inside out, and put on backwards. But nothing about Casey is traditional. I think she’d agree that that’s for the better. “I don’t care how ridiculous I look, I’m gonna wear that proudly.”

The delight Casey elicits as she dons this wig makes a time where she resided in a funk seem distant. The perils of depression and anxiety are unwavering, but they’re far more manageable now. Vices have evolved into coping mechanisms coming in the form of faith and photography. Her impact, she feels, is palpable.

“This is my story. This is my testimony,” she says. “I heard the Lord say ‘you are going to do amazing things.’ And I feel like I’ve impacted people here at Marist that I wouldn’t have impacted if I wasn’t here on Earth.”

At one point during our conversation, Casey’s voice skips, almost as though she’s trying to find the words. She looks up at the ceiling of the conference room, and exhales. Then, she smiles. She then says, “I just feel like there’s so many things to come, and I think that is where faith comes in for me… Because I moved away from it to test God, and he ended up being like, ‘how’d you like that?’ I’m still here. I’m still real.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

The cover of Casey’s soon to be published photography book “Behind Closed Doors.”

Edited by Center Field Editorial Team.

Header image by Kristin Flanigan.

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