BOGACZYK: With Wood Bat, Bird Really Hits the Cape
The Word on the Herd-Aug. 26, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Corey Bird went to Cape Cod this summer. As much as he enjoyed it, you’d think the Marshall center fielder was on a two-month vacation on Nantucket Sound.
It was anything but.
Bird, the Herd’s leadoff man, worked on his resume … his pro baseball resume.
The southpaw from Pinch, W.Va., helped the Hyannis Harbor Hawks to the Cape Cod Baseball League championship series, and helped himself to plenty of good pitching in the nation’s pre-eminent summer collegiate wood-bat league.
When the season opened in early June, he was batting .167 – 3-for-18. When it ended Aug. 12 with Hyannis falling to Yarmouth-Dennis for the title, Bird had forged stellar season as one of six outfielders selected to the CCBL Year-End All-Star Team.
“My expectations and goals when I went were simply to stay there all summer and just do my best,” said Bird, who started his junior year at Marshall earlier this week. “Those were my only goals. Then it would be a good summer.
“I surprised myself for sure. I just told myself to stay positive, whether I had a good game or bad game, ride it out and stay positive no matter what happens.”
Bird finished the regular season with a .344 batting average – fourth in the league – to go with 11 steals and 11 RBI – mostly from leadoff or ninth in the Hawks’ order. Turns out he was just warming up.
In the two-round playoffs, Bird went 11-for-30 (.367) in seven games, with a towering homer, seven RBI and five steals. His postseason OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) was .945.
For the entire summer, Bird fanned only 10 times in 145 plate appearances. His walk-to-strikeout ratio of 1.625 led the CCBL – and he was going against pitching staffs that included all-star picks from power schools like Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Fresno State, Virginia Tech and Michigan.
“The wood bat was an adjustment, for sure, because you had to find a bat that was comfortable and wasn’t too heavy, a good size,” said Bird, who has started all 96 games in two seasons for Coach Jeff Waggoner’s Herd. “That was a huge adjustment, but at the same time you’d kind of lose focus of the wood bats because you were going against very, very good pitching.
“The bat I used was 33-inch, 30 or 31 ounces, about same as a metal bat for me, but it felt heavier. Honestly, I felt like it had more pop than the metal bat and it just felt more comfortable, especially when you barrel up and hit a line drive.
“When I started out struggling, it was a little bit of both. It was partly the bat; some of it was the pitching. Everything was an adjustment.”
Bird said the two months he spent on Cape Cod was the longest stretch he’d been away from his Kanawha county home or Marshall. He called his off-field experience “special,” too.
“I lived with a host family, in a beautiful house, a great family … Marisa and Kurt Saunders and two sons, Trevor and Drew,” Bird said. “I was welcomed with open arms there; it was tremendous.”
“Tremendous” would also describe Bird’s play once he got untracked. From July 5 through the playoffs, he batted .400 (36-for-90). Fourteen of his final 27 games were multi-hit games.
If he wasn’t a pro prospect when he headed from home to Hyannis, he is now.
“Being able to compete every day and try my best not to go on a cold streak,” Bird said when asked what surprised him the most about his Cape performance. “Honestly, my goal was just to put the ball in play, don’t strike out, draw walks, hit the ball on the ground, use my speed as an advantage.
“This is what I told Coach Waggoner … what I learned up there was what kind of player I was – my strengths, my weaknesses, what I’m good at, what I need to improve on. And I really just took that into every game and tried to play to my strengths and my abilities.
“I did know what kind of player I was, but I didn’t. I know I’m not going to hit home runs all the time. I know I’m not going to drive doubles and triples all of the time. I know I’m going to get on base, steal a base, lead off mainly get on steal some bags and get into scoring position. I thought some of that before, but now I know.”
Bird, who has batted .300 in his Herd career with 25 steals and a .372 on-base percentage, said his Cape emergence after the Fourth of July was rooted in the confirmation that his sport is kind of like that great Yogi Berra quote” “Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.”
“I just went back to the basics of hitting,” Bird said of his last-month success. “It was about keeping my swing really simple, not trying to create too much, get my foot down early … and pitch recognition. Pitch recognition is huge for me. Recognize whether it’s fastball, changeup and try your best to swing at the right pitches.
“The biggest thing I learned is about staying positive. One thing I learned playing summer league baseball is -- you hear this all the time – baseball is all mental. And I’d tell anyone that baseball is all mental. It’s how you approach the game.
“You hit a groundball, you can jog or you can sprint to first. You strike out, you can slam your helmet or take it and learn from it. You can miss a fly ball and slam your glove, or take it and move on, keep your head in the game. The mental side of baseball is staying positive and having a good attitude. That’s what I definitely took from it.”
Bird, a sports marketing major, said he’s “really interested in scouting” as a profession. He might be even more interested in it after some of those in the profession start bird-dogging him when his Herd junior season opens in February.
“I acknowledge they do say stuff like that (that he made himself into a draft pick this summer), but honestly it goes in one ear and out the other,” Bird said. “I say thank you and keep walking, because I know nothing is promised in life. If you have a good game or a good season, nothing’s promised. You have to go out and do it the next time. You have to keep working every day.”
And while Bird had 43 hits in 45 games this season, there is no question which one was the most stunning. It was a tape-measure home run -- his only one of the season – in a 10-3 win in the CCBL semifinals at Bourne.
“It was the Western finals, Game 1,” said Bird, who also has only one homer in two Herd seasons. “We had a good lead, and the kid (Bourne reliever Nick Quattro) was throwing kind of sidearm, really good I’ve got two strikes.
“He threw a slider, kind of elevated it and I was telling myself, ‘I’m not going to strike out.’ I think I just took my hands and followed it – and it hit the top of the scoreboard … right field, about 20 feet inside the foul pole.”
Bird said there were a significant number of Cape fans he met that didn’t have any idea where his university was located, but after watching him this summer, they probably know of Marshall and its center fielder now.
“The biggest way the experience changed me is it’s really humbled me and made me smarter as a person and as a player. That’s because it taught me what I need to keep working on to help the team here at Marshall, help us win a Conference USA championship and help myself. It made me really want to take a leadership role here, winning games, improving our teams.
“I try not to think about the draft too much, but before I went there, I just thought, ‘Stay up here and just learn.’ Take what you learn and help the team at Marshall. If we can win a lot more games, anything’s possible.”