By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Right-hander Bryan Corey pitched six solid innings on Sunday for the independent Atlantic League’s Camden Riversharks in a 4-3 win over Southern Maryland to raise his record to 5-5 in 2012.
This season with the Riversharks is just the latest chapter in the 38-year-old Corey’s baseball journey which has seen a transition from the middle infield to the mound and taken him around the globe.
Corey’s pro career began back in 1993 when he was drafted by the Tigers, in the 12th round out of Los Angeles Pierce College in Woodland, California. Corey was a shortstop by trade who had dabbled on the mound.
“Actually there were 11 teams I talked to before the draft that were going to draft me and only one was going to draft me as a shortstop and that’s the one that did, and that’s the Detroit Tigers,” Corey tells KYW Newsradio. “All the other teams were going to take me as a pitcher. I would come in from shortstop when I was in college and I would finish the game. I wasn’t a ‘pitcher’, I would just go and throw. I’ve been kind of blessed with a good arm.”
Listen to Matt Leon’s interview with Bryan Corey:
But he struggled with the bat as a pro. Corey hit .128 his first two seasons and for awhile it looked like that might mean an abrupt end to the pro-baseball dream. “I guess maybe I was a pitcher trying to play in the field the whole time. Ironically, our manager (in Camden) Jeff Scott was the one that called me (at that time he worked in the Tigers front office) to tell me that they didn’t have a spot for me as a player anymore, but if I wanted to give pitching a shot, that they would give me a chance to do that,” he said.
Corey kicked the idea around. “Sat down, I thought about it for an hour. I figured I would just go ahead and give it a shot. Two and a half years later, I think, I was in the big leagues. Here I am, however, many years later, still pitching . . so I think probably a smart move,” he said.
Working almost exclusively now as a reliever, Corey did indeed make that Major League debut for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1998, appearing in three games.
In 2002, he was called up by the Dodgers for a game, but that would be his last taste of the big leagues for a few years and it looked like he may have hit the end of the road, period, in 2006, after getting released by the Cubs in spring training.
“I ended up going around with my glove and my spikes in one hand and I am trying to throw bullpens for teams, because I had already pitched in three games in spring training. I knew some front office guys with the Texas Rangers and I said, ‘I just want to throw a bullpen’. So I threw a bullpen and they asked me what I was looking for, and I said, ‘Just a chance to be at AAA with a chance to get to the big leagues’. They asked if I would be willing to go back to AA, and I did. It had been nine years since I had been in Double-A, so I took that step back, but it was probably one of the best times of my career. I had a blast and I just looked at it differently because for the first time in my career, I had been released,” he said.
Corey threw well and after some time in AA he was promoted to AAA where he was dominant in a dozen games. Then the phone rang and the next thing he knew he was back in the big leagues as a Texas Ranger – with a full appreciation of how special the accomplishment was. “I was sitting in the bullpen in Boston, because when I got called up the Rangers were playing the Red Sox. And I was laughing when I was warming up,” Corey said. “It was a tie ballgame, sixth inning. And my bullpen coach was like, ‘What’s so funny right now?’ And I told him, ‘I shouldn’t even be here right now. I could be at home. What’s the worst thing that happens to me? If I suck, I go home. Well that’s where I was. Right now I’m warming up in Fenway Park and I’m back in the big leagues. And I worked so hard to get back here.'”
Corey actually punctuated that moment by getting in that game at Fenway, striking out all four batters he faced and getting his first Major League win. He would pitch in 87 games in the majors between 2006 and 2008 with the Rangers, Red Sox and Padres. He was a member of the 2007 World Champion Boston team – although he wasn’t on the post-season roster. He does have a ring and says he was kind of the “26th man”, staying sharp in the bullpen ready to be the first man added to the roster in the case of an injury.
The big league experience is only one chapter of Corey’s story, however. He spent a lot time overseas in Korea, Taiwan and Japan. He also logged a brief stint in Mexico, but it was the time in Asia that Corey really enjoyed. “The people, the culture, they are so respectful to everybody. And they make it so much fun for all foreign players. You’re treated like heroes and gods,” he said. “It’s a neat experience. They don’t boo, they don’t root against their players if you are doing bad or you are struggling – they just keep cheering on. They just keep rooting for you. It’s just different. It’s just a different style, it’s a different personality, a different mindset for them. They chant and they sing and they play music and it’s just a lot of fun.”
This season in Camden is Corey’s 20th in pro ball. Needless to say, he is closer to the end of his playing career than to the beginning. Given his experience you would think coaching, scouting or a front office gig would all be viable options after he hangs ’em up. Corey says there is one thing for sure.
“I will be in baseball. That’s what I want to do. I got my education, basically, in baseball. So one way or the other – maybe it will be a little bit of everything, I don’t know. We’ll just see how it pans out.”
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.