It would take more than a brick wall to knock Corey Ray out of a game. The outfielder from Chicago has the story to back it up.
During the 2011 season, Ray was a sophomore center fielder for Simeon Career Academy and the Wolverines were facing their Windy City rival St. Rita High, located just three miles down West 79th Street. St. Rita has a brick wall behind the plate and in center field. Ray met the center-field section up close and personal one day.
The Mustangs No. 3 hitter, junior Zach Soria, hit a deep fly ball that sent Ray sprinting straight back. He leapt on the warning track, made the catch and crashed head-first into the wall.
“I didn’t feel anything,” Ray said. “I tried to get up but my legs said ‘Where are you going?’”
Fellow outfielder Darius Day came over and was shocked by the amount of blood he saw. Ray felt his face with his hand and was rushed to the dugout for medical attention, but when they tried to take him out of the game and to the hospital, he vehemently protested. The coaching staff turned to Ray’s dad for a decision.
“He asked me if I’d be able to contribute,” Ray said. “I told him I could so they taped me up and I went back on the field screaming ‘Let’s go Wolverines!’”
In his next at-bat, Ray struck out on three pitches and said he couldn’t see the ball, but he came through in the top of the seventh by hitting a two-run home run. Simeon lost the game, but Ray says he’ll never forget it—despite the knock to his head. Two years after the incident, he’ll patrol another outfield with a brick wall, Wrigley Field, when he heads to his city’s north side to play in the Under Armour All-America Game, powered by Baseball Factory.
Student First, Athlete Second
Simeon Career Academy is a vocational school on the south side of Chicago, less than 10 miles from the White Sox’s U.S. Cellular Field. It’s a public school, but has an application process in which students must submit an essay stating their four-year plan for high school in 300 words or less along with documents that reflect grades and test scores. Simeon offers classes under the standard high school subjects, but also has departments like accounting, auto body repair, carpentry, cosmetology and culinary arts.
Ray’s interests lie in math and he is majoring in accounting at Simeon. He maintains a 3.9 grade-point average and wants to be a financial advisor for professional athletes when baseball is no longer an option. But to participate in baseball activities he has to make sure his academics are in order—a demand his father and Simeon stand by.
“He’s dedicated to his schoolwork,” associate head coach Robert Fletcher said. “His father instilled that in him. He truly is a student athlete. You can’t say that about every kid. He’s a very driven young man in whatever he does.”
Fletcher has coached Ray since he was 10 years old and watched him grow into a Division I caliber player. Ray’s father, also named Corey, pushed him to work hard at an early age. But the younger Ray said he wasn’t disciplined like a normal child.
“If I did something wrong, I’d have to run the hill or suicides,” he said. “But he wouldn’t go with me. He’d say, ‘If you don’t do them, I’ll see it on the field.’ ”
So Ray wouldn’t cheat and continues to put in the off-field work. Along with Simeon teammates Ro Coleman, Darius Day, Robert Fletcher Jr. and Blake Hickman—who is now entering his freshman year at Iowa—Ray has formed a workout group called TNDO, an acronym for Take No Days Off.
“It’s a group of the hardest workers in Chicago,” Ray said. “We do workouts when the team doesn’t have anything. We do extra sprints. We live by that.”
Ray also credits a Chicago White Sox program for helping to advance his baseball skills. He has been playing with Amateur City Elite, or ACE, since he was 13 years old. ACE is a traveling baseball team that pulls kids from high schools in the Chicago Public League who don’t have the same financial support or opportunities as other amateur prospects.
That time with the White Sox put Ray on a stage to break out in 2011. He represented Chicago in the Breakthrough Series and went off in the four-game series. He hit .538 (7-for-13) with two home runs, two doubles, a triple, four runs scored and five RBIs. One of those home runs led off the championship game against Courtney Hawkins.
“That was great,” Ray said. “I’ll remember that tournament for the rest of my life. The performance and the opportunity. I still have the video on my TV.”
His favorite player is Ichiro, but Ray models his game after the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson—another Chicago native. Scouts aren’t ready to put the expectations of Granderson’s profile on Ray, but he’s strong and shows some good power.
“He has bat speed with a decent feel to hit,” an American League scout said. “He gets good jumps in center, but doesn’t have the pure speed I thought he would have. But I think he is going to be a good player.”
Ray is verbally committed to Louisville and working to make improvements to certain areas of his game. He knows he needs to get faster and is practicing yoga to become more flexible while focusing on barreling the ball up more.
“He just needs to stay consistent and focus on his strengths,” Fletcher said. “He needs to work gap to gap and cut down on the strikeouts.”
Though he doesn’t pick sides when it comes to Cubs versus White Sox and having already played at U.S. Cellular, Ray is excited to step on Wrigley Field and take in its history while representing his city. Also committed to doing charity work in Chicago, Ray now gets the chance to show his talent on national television while in his backyard as an Under Armour All-American.
“It feels great,” Ray said. “Wrigley is storied and magnificent. It’s kind of emotional.”