Casper Wells has fond memories of his time in Baltimore.
He swilled cheap beers at Pickles Pub, purchased discounted upper-deck tickets to Friday night games at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and sneaked as close to field level as possible. When ushers would ask him to relocate, Wells would explain that he was a Towson University baseball player and that he simply wanted a more appropriate view of the game.
Wells returned to Camden Yards on Friday wearing a Detroit Tigers uniform, his first game in Baltimore since the Tigers recalled him from Triple-A Toledo on Aug. 23. It has been a long route to the big leagues for Wells, who was lightly recruited out of Schenectady High School in New York, started his collegiate career as a pitcher and struggled to make the adjustment to professional baseball shortly after Detroit selected him with the 420th overall pick in the 2005 amateur draft.
Making only his third start of the season in center field during the second game of Friday's straight doubleheader, Wells made a lunging catch for the third out in the top of the fifth that robbed Nick Markakis of a would-be double. Three innings later, he made the final out of the eighth by nailing Jake Fox at home plate for his fourth outfield assist of the season.
"He's got a pretty accurate throwing arm, and he made another play that was a very, very nice play," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Some center fielders make it and some don't, but he's a good outfielder. That's a highlight play, obviously."
Awarded regular at-bats in the Tigers' lineup, Wells is experiencing success in the major leagues, batting .353 with four home runs and 17 RBIs through 33 games this season. It's the type of story that might not have seemed possible during his freshman year at Towson, when Wells spent most of the season as the Tigers' closer and had just 56 at-bats.
"To his credit, he didn't quit, he didn't give up, he kept working at the game," Towson coach Mike Gottlieb said. "If you were a scout and you looked at his tools, he can hit, hit for power, run, throw and field. Toolswise, he's a superstar."
There were early glimpses of Wells' potential as a hitter. After a fall practice during his freshman year in 2003, Wells belted a series of home runs over the fence in left-center field at John B. Schuerholz Park that took Gottlieb and other members of Towson's coaching staff by surprise. Though it wasn't an immediate switch, Wells had demonstrated the type of power that opened a spot in Towson's lineup a few months later.
"I think some guys were surprised because no one had really seen me hit before," Wells said. "I never talked myself up any because I didn't think in high school I was that good of a hitter at all. I had no approach."
Wells functioned as a two-way threat for Towson, finishing his career with a .351 average, 28 home runs and 115 RBIs, and posting a 6-0 record as a starter his junior season.
The American Baseball Coaches Association named him a second-team All-American in 2005, and when Detroit originally recalled him on May 14, he became just the third player in Towson history to reach the major leagues.
"He does all the things a coach wants to see in a player," said Tigers first base coach Tom Brookens, who managed Wells over parts of three seasons in the minors. "He plays with what I call a good reckless abandon. He's a very aggressive player. It's hard to teach that, and he's got it."
The transition to professional baseball didn't come easy, and Wells acknowledged sulking when the Tigers assigned him to the Gulf Coast League after he was drafted. But a breakout 2008 campaign in Double-A, during which Wells hit 17 home runs and drove in 53 runs through 75 games, established him as a big league prospect.
"He was the best player in the league the last month of that season," Brook- ens said. "I think that was the turning point for him. He's always been an outstanding outfielder. Good arm, good speed, great instincts and reaction to the ball. His question mark has always been consistency."
With the right fielder's job up for grabs in Detroit, Wells has a legitimate chance to open next season as a starter. The success he has enjoyed during his brief time in the big leagues has him focused on what it will take to seize the position for good.
"I just have to have consistent at-bats and have a plan when I go up the plate based on who's pitching," Wells said. "I think if I bring my plan up there and let the cards fall as they will, then I can have some success."