Brad Corley was locked in behind the batting cage Monday, focused on his batters. As the dueling pitching machines alternated 85 mile-per-hour fastballs with tight curveballs, the St. Stanislaus batters were tasked with reading and attacking.
“C’mon, big man. You’re all right,” Corley said. “You have to stay on top of the ball. Straight to it.”
“C’mon. That’s no focus right there. You swung at a curveball. You’re not supposed to do that.”
“Get ready to hit. No leg kick here.”
The Rockachaws stepped out of the box once finished with their round of batting practice and migrated over to a slimmed-down Corley who looks like he could still take the pitcher yard.
The former Mississippi State standout and Pittsburgh Pirates farmhand has been a popular mentor at SSC since rejoining the team’s baseball staff last year as hitting and outfielders coach.
Monday was no different with two big region games against Vancleave awaiting the Rockachaws on Tuesday and Friday.
“Everybody always says, ‘Hey, what did you see?’ Everybody wants that opinion from him because it’s a pro opinion,” SSC catcher Magruder O’Bannon said. “He has been at the highest level and has been with guys like the Rockies’ hitting coaches so I really think that gives us the ability to do our best because we have pro knowledge helping us out.”
Added SSC head coach Mark Logan: “With the experience and knowledge he has from playing at the different levels, he couldn't do anything but help our kids. We're lucky to have him. He fits in great.”
Plenty of experience
Corley has basically seen it all on the diamond from his time as a Gatorade Player of the Year in Louisville, Kentucky, to earning All-SEC and All-America honors while leading Mississippi State to three consecutive NCAA regionals from 2003-05. Corley pitched a bit, too, but it was his bat — a career .339 hitter with 25 homers, 131 RBIs and a .912 OPS — that got him drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the second round of the ’05 MLB First-Year Player’s Draft.
Corley climbed the ranks of the Pirates’ system to Double-A before an overhaul within Pittsburgh’s front office ultimately led to Corley being traded to the Colorado Rockies. Colorado had originally drafted Corley as a pitcher out of Pleasure Ridge Park High School and so the former Bulldog was moved to the mound once his new organization thought his bat had topped out. Injuries soon followed, however, which allowed Corley, who married his college sweetheart, Emily, to visit the Coast and volunteer with St. Stanislaus’ 2010 championship team. It was then that a seed was planted with Corley that spending his spring days on ball fields across South Mississippi might be in his future. He liked the thought but wasn’t quite done chasing his dream.
“Growing up you always think you’re going to play forever,” Corley said. “When I got injured, with it ending the way it did, I wasn’t done with the game yet.”
After assisting at MSU and volunteering for a couple springs at SSC while trying to cling to his dream, Corley joined Gulfport High’s staff.
“People say, ‘Why didn’t you want to do college or pro ball?’ After three years of college and seven of pro ball, I was kind of ready to be settled,” Corley said. “I just wanted to take a step back, take a deep breath and live on the Coast and enjoy life down here.”
‘The Bay is my home’
Following three seasons with the Admirals, Corley moved west in part to be at SSC and partly to be closer to his two young sons, Tucker and Tanner, and his wife, who grew up in Bay St. Louis and is the daughter of Mike Meyers, the patriarch of Our Lady Academy’s volleyball dynasty.
“The Bay is my home and my kids go to school here so it was just easier for me and my family to work here,” Corley said.
Corley, who also teaches geometry and algebra I, has enjoyed his time on the prep ranks. It has actually been more rewarding imparting his experiences on to the young Rockachaws who want to eventually chase their own Major League dreams.
“I try to help them see what it takes to be a complete baseball player,” he said. “Not just hitting and throwing, but how to run bases, knowing situational hitting, stuff like that. It's tough at times because as kids they just play and don't really learn that, so there's a challenge there but we have fun with them. It's a good group of kids.”
A lot of what Corley preaches he learned at Mississippi State while playing for legendary coach Ron Polk.
“The biggest piece of advice I remember from him was to do everything in a first class manner,” he said. “Whatever you do, whether it's hitting, throwing, taking the field, getting off the bus, do it first class.”
Not all of Corley’s stories are serious. Like the time his Bulldog teammates pranked Polk, who was a cigar aficionado.
“He wasn't allowed to light them on the bus, but he would light them right before we got on, smoke it for five minutes, then get on (the bus) and just chew on it,” Corley recalled. “Guys had gotten ahold of his cigars and put the little poppers in the tip of it and hid it.
“Well, he lit it and it popped and he about jumped off the bus.”
Corley has aspirations of being a head coach one day. With his combination of experience, dedication, knowledge and relatability to his players, Logan believes Corley is on a trajectory to call his own shots as a head coach in time.
But first, Corley has tee-ball practice.