Starting in center and closing the game on the mound is not a conventional role for a baseball player. Dykstra, though, thrives in that exact situation.

Imagine that you are on a baseball team. 

After four hard-fought, nine-inning battles on the field, you and your team secured a series sweep against a conference opponent. The following celebration represents pure elation. You give a high-five to every member within the clubhouse and begin to walk towards the dugout to prepare for another hard day of practice in less than 24 hours. However, every single one of your teammates stops once they step past the first baseline. 

You all line up in two parallel lines and look towards the left-field foul pole. About 50 feet away lies the team’s most acrobatic player. He sprints towards the two lines. After reaching the beginning of the line, he does a cartwheel. Once he lands, with his back towards everyone, his momentum from the cartwheel transitions into a backflip. There is no doubting that he will land firmly on the ground with both of his feet; he’s never failed before.

When he lands, he’s directly in the middle of all his teammates. Everyone migrates towards him and dog-piles him, all the while yelling and chanting with admiration. For Azusa Pacific, this has become a well-known tradition whenever the Cougars secure a four-game sweep during the baseball season. The player who commits to the entertainment? His name is Casey Dykstra.

“When I land, it’s amazing. It’s such a good feeling,” Dykstra said. “And knowing that I can do it every time the team secures a sweep, it is just further motivation to produce on the field.” 

It is no shocker that Dykstra fell in love with the game of baseball; his family was completely enamored with the sport. While his dad also played baseball, the biggest reason for this admiration was the success of his uncle Lenny Dykstra.

Lenny Dykstra is sort of an enigma within the baseball world. Several people remember him for his off-the-field controversy. Lenny had a multitude of different convictions later in his life, including issues of bankruptcy fraud, grand theft auto and drug possession. But on the field, he was beloved by fans who appreciated his “traditional” approach to baseball.

A major leaguer for over a decade, fans of the game remember the former World Series champion for his hard-knock style and his mouth full of chewing tobacco. It was hard to find someone on the field who worked harder than Lenny and several people, including Casey, compares him to Reds’ great Pete Rose. 

Every time he steps on the field for APU, Casey hopes to mimic the style of play that his uncle presented during his playing career. Casey wants to be the player who makes the diving play in the outfield or who slides headfirst into third to beat the throw. That drive comes from effort, and no one helped teach him how to play the game with effort and passion more than Uncle Lenny.

“If you want to show someone the way to play the game, show them footage of my uncle,” Casey said. “I look up to him when I’m on the field. Whether it was my dad showing me footage of his days in the pros or just telling me stories about growing up with him, I admire the way he played. His approach to the game was not letting anyone take anything away from him.”

When reminiscing on his first memories from childhood, he couldn’t remember a time when he didn’t love baseball. However, baseball didn’t become his most valued passion until high school after he realized that his talent could reach the next level of competition. Attending Santiago High School in Corona, Calif., Dykstra was named a team captain his senior year and earned a 1st Team All-League honor in the Big VIII League of the CIF-SS Southern Section Division III bracket. Yet Dykstra was not highly recruited during his final year with Sharks, likely due to his 5-foot-11 stature.

Dykstra as a senior knew a lot about the baseball program at APU, which was just a little over a half-hour away from Corona. In fact, he even played at the Cougar Baseball Complex his sophomore year and got “goosebumps” playing on their field. While he didn’t play on that same field his senior year, he played right next door at Citrus College. 

Before stepping on the field at Citrus, Dykstra had sent a multitude of letters to universities in which he expressed interest in a scholarship opportunity. One of those schools was APU, and the Cougars’ coach, Paul Svagdis, sat in the stands watching Dykstra play on that day. However, Svagdis was scouting one of Dykstra’s teammates when the relative to Lenny Dykstra caught his eye. Svagdis approached Ty DeTrinidad, who was the head coach for the Sharks, and asked for Casey’s contact information. When he got back to his office, he was prepared to give his new prospect a call when he saw a letter sitting on his desk — the exact letter that Dykstra wrote just a few days before.

“It was just a wild story, it sort of seemed like fate,” he said. “Coach (Paul) immediately gave me a call after that. And when I was offered a scholarship, it was an easy decision for me. Not only was it the Christian atmosphere that I wanted to be a part of, but it was also close to home. And it was a competitive program where they have had success at getting guys drafted.”

After only a few appearances as a freshman for the Cougars, Dykstra became a consistent starter for the program his sophomore year. In 43 appearances, he made 36 starts in center field, and he also increased his batting average from the year prior by a .048 uptick.  After the shortened campaign in 2020, Dykstra has made incredible strides in his fourth year with the program. He has carried the third-highest on-base percentage (.476)  for the Cougars out of batters who have had at least 15 plate appearances. He also ranks third in hits (27), home runs (5) and total bases (47). 

He credits his recent success to his summer training. Two summers ago he trained in Minnesota looking to further develop his approach at the plate, and he committed to a similar summer session last year in Santa Barbara, Calif. Yet, those progressions are also being seen on the mound for Dykstra.

While the Corona-born outfielder only had a few appearances on the mound in his first three years with the program, in 2021, Dykstra has become a go-to in the bullpen for Coach Svagdis. Before his most recent pitching performance against Biola last week, Dykstra had pitched in six different contests and picked up three saves. Over the span of those six innings of work, No. 4 had failed to let up a single run while also only giving up four hits. 

“I thrive in this role. Being in center field for eight innings and then landing on the bump to secure the save, I just love it,” Dykstra said. “Getting coached by Coach Paul has been so beneficial. He never fails to put us in a good spot to be successful. Not only just the team but also the individual players. And with the way he has developed me as a player, it has really put me at ease when I’m on the field. I know I just need to relax and execute the way he has taught me, and I’ll find success.”

The positive steps that Dykstra has experienced over the last year and a half show the incredible potential that he can continue to have as a player. With plans of making even more adjustments down the line, Dykstra hopes that his skillset can influence a major league club to take a chance on him either in the form of a draft pick or a free-agent contract. However, if that doesn’t happen, Casey plans on coming back to APU as a graduate student and using the extra year of eligibility that the NCAA provided student-athletes this year.

When it becomes decision time for him and his future, Dykstra only wants to continue playing ball. Nevertheless, he knows that his time at APU will need to come to an end eventually. And when that inevitable transition happens, Dykstra wants to be remembered — much like his uncle was — for the way he played the game that he loves.

However, when considering his aspirations in this sport, he is not seeking to build off of the legacy of Lenny. Instead, he wants to continue building onto his own legacy. He is not hoping to be remembered as “the kid who is Lenny Dykstra’s nephew.” Rather, he wants to be remembered as “the great Casey Dykstra” — a young man who would do anything for both his teammates and a win.

“I want my teammates to remember me as a guy who always had their back,” he mentioned. “And with that, someone who would do anything for the team in clutch moments. Every time I’m on the field I want to be in those positions. I want to always make the winning plays for my team.”