By: Brandon Vickrey
Whiting, Ind. – June 30, 2016 – A day after getting a glimpse of his potential future home, Corey Ray took a trip to his past.
The Brewers No. 5 overall pick took batting practice at Miller Park and was interviewed on the Brewers TV and radio broadcasts after signing his professional contract on Saturday, June 25. A day later, he sat in the stands at Oil City Stadium, watching a game between the Northwest Indiana Oilmen and Joliet Admirals.
Ray was interviewed during the Oilmen radio broadcast on AM 1230 WJOB to talk about being drafted in the top five.
“It’s surreal,” he said. “You don’t believe it until your name is on the line and you shake hands and they say it’s official. You work so hard in the game of baseball, and to go to the next level and get paid to do it is something I could have only dreamed of.”
Ray played in the Midwest Collegiate League in 2013 with the Southland Vikings before beginning his career at Louisville. The trip to Oil City Stadium was not only a return to one of Ray’s past venues, but also a chance to see his friends and former Simeon High School teammates Bo Fletcher and Marshawn Taylor play for the Oilmen.
“This is actually the first time I’ve ever seen them play,” Ray said. “I’ve always been on the same field or in the same dugout with them. It’s great to see how they play and their talent.”
The trio goes back to their youth days, as they starting playing together at age 9.
“He wasn’t the best player back then,” Fletcher said. “He was actually one of the worst players. It was mainly because he wasn’t as strong as everybody. When he got older, he got really strong and tall. He took his game to the next level. That shut up all the haters.”
Fletcher wasn’t surprised to see Ray in the stands just a day after being introduced in Milwaukee. He knew his close friend would make an effort to see him play after Fletcher went and watched Louisville compete in the super regional while the Oilmen infielder was sidelined with a wrist injury.
Fletcher and Ray both made their college-level debuts in the same Midwest Collegiate League game on June 3, 2013, immediately after finishing their career as Simeon teammates. The two were playing on the same diamond just like before, but this time wearing opposite uniforms with Ray batting leadoff and playing centerfield for the Vikings and Fletcher batting second and playing second base for the Chicago Zephyrs.
Ray is a player who appreciates every step that helped him along the way, including that summer playing for the Vikings.
“I remember the talent and competition,” Ray said. “You had to bring your best every day. I felt like every game was close. I learned a lot from the players on my team. The college game is a lot faster than the high school game, and I think playing in this league got me acclimated to the speed of the game.”
Ray, a former member of the Chicago White Sox ACE program, hopes to be a success story that inspires young baseball players on Chicago’s south side.
“It’s a testament to the mentorship I’ve gotten,” Ray said. “I’m pretty sure you’ll start seeing more and more south siders get the opportunity to play the game of baseball at a high level.”
Although he just signed a lucrative professional contract, that doesn’t mean Ray’s running around spending money wildly.
“I think it’ll be a while before I purchase anything,” he said. “My family calls me cheap; I like to call it frugal. I don’t want to be one of those guys who signs and has some money young, and then when they’re older, they’re talking about how much money they used to have.”
Ray is in Los Angeles and is one of four finalists for USA Baseball’s Golden Spikes Award, which is awarded to the top amateur baseball player in the United States each year. The award will be announced on Thursday at 6 p.m. Central Time on ESPN.
Next, Ray will head to Brevard County, Fla., where he will report to the Manatees, the Class-A affiliate of the Brewers, on Friday.
“I think it’s just about going out there and playing,” Ray said. “Yeah, I have reached one goal, but the end goal is to reach the big leagues and stay in the big leagues as long as possible. I haven’t arrived yet. I’ve got to continue to play at a high level and work hard to get to that level to reach my end goal.”
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING ABOUT COREY RAY
Oilmen infielder Bo Fletcher: “Corey’s a great guy. I think he’s going to be in the big leagues within the next two or three years. He is showing that kids in the inner cities can play baseball. Corey could be an example for those kids and show them that basketball and football aren’t the only sports for kids from the inner cities.”
Former Vikings Manager Chris Cunningham: “I remember an 18-year old kid that didn’t seem like an 18-year old kid. He was a man. You knew he was something special as soon as you saw him. He hit a ball over the 410 sign at Oil City Stadium and we were like, ‘Holy cow, this kid has got something special.’”
MCL Commissioner Don Popravak: “When I first met Corey Ray, he was somewhat of a quiet young man who was trying hard to fit in with much older players from the league. He was a quick learner. He listened to Chris Cunningham, who had five years of professional experience with the Tampa Bay Rays. He absorbed and learned quite a bit in the period he was with us. I knew he would go to Louisville and never look back because of his work ethic and ability.”
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