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Rich Stevens: Hoover's Bird the toughest out in the Kanawha Valley

Being the toughest out in the Kanawha Valley is quite a title for the player who focuses his baseball being on reaching base, stealing bases and scoring runs.

Welcome to the world of Herbert Hoover leadoff hitter Corey Bird.

His life revolves around touching four bases every time he steps to the plate.

He uses his bat for drawing lines in the sand before putting the ball in play, creating a small cross in the back corner of the batter's box and a straight line next to home plate.

The line is to remind Bird to "not block my backside and to stay linear," he said.

At the risk of giving away clues to keeping him off base, Bird seldom drag bunts - despite being a left-hander. Like most lefties, the majority of his hits are from center to right, so he's a bit confused at the decision of third basemen to stay in the grass. If Bird bunts, he's getting on base. You can count on that.

"It depends on the situation whether or not I'm going to bunt," said Bird, a Marshall recruit. "Maybe if my swing isn't feeling good in BP (batting practice), I'm not seeing pitches very well and if the third baseman is back. Really, anytime we need a baserunner.

"I might not be safe every time, but I could bunt ... I guess they're expecting me to hit because I have a reputation of hitting. I work on bunting all the time, especially with my dad. First-base line, third-base line, sacrifice, I bunt all the time."

Once he reaches base, even Bird admits it's not rocket science - he's leaving when the pitcher comes home.

"I'm surprised teams haven't thrown over more when I'm on first," he said. "They go to the plate a lot. They can try to hold me on, but they could do a better job of it."

Bird could be baiting pitchers since he "loves it" when pitchers throw over.

Throw to first five, six, seven times lets the runner know you're watching him, but it also wears him down as he dives back to the bag.

Bird bucks that theory.

One coach told me that when Bird reaches first base, you're better off just not to bother trying to keep him on. You have to throw a pitch eventually and he's going to steal anyway. It equates to not wasting resources on an opposing player in a basketball game when you know he's going to get his points.

Stop everybody else and his production doesn't matter. Unfortunately for Hoover, that was proved for one day last season - the Class AA championship game in a 1-0 loss to Wyoming East when Bird stole three bases.

If he gets on and takes off for second, it's wise for the catcher to eat the ball, because a poor throw without the backup of the shortstop or centerfielder will have consequences.

Question the numbers all you want, most coaches aren't focused on a player's batting average, only what his pitcher does against him.

So far, it's not good news for opposing hurlers.

I'd like to take credit for giving Bird the title of toughest out in the Kanawha Valley, but I'm sure this isn't the first time it was uttered.

In three games I have seen Hoover play, Bird has 11 plate appearances, reached base nine times and scored eight. I have him 5-for-10 (.500) in those games with three stolen bases in games against Poca, Sissonville and Charleston Catholic - and I am not a batter-friendly scorekeeper. On No. 11, he was hit by a pitch. That's not far off from his official season average of .541 entering this week.

He has struck out only once in those games - it was against Poca for only the 15th strikeout of his four-year high school varsity career. In the strike out I saw, he fouled off three consecutive 2-2 pitches before being caught looking.

You could also throw him in the pitching rotation for 25 innings or more with a couple starts and you'll get a win or two. He throws a curveball for strikes and keeps opponents off-balance with a timely fastball.

Against Charleston Catholic - a Class A final four team in 2012 - he had nine strikeouts and no walks.

There is pure focus, drive and determination with the 2010 Daily Mail Freshman of the Year - all cliches, certainly, but not without evidence.

"He's an excellent player," said Catholic Coach Bill Mehle, whose team reached the Class A championship game in 2011. "I saw him at the Y every time I was there this winter and he was doing a lot of baseball-specific conditioning. He's just committed to playing the game as best he can.

"He does it with his conditioning and mental approach. All credit to him."

You can lament the merits of Hoover's schedule, but I can't think of a team in the Valley for whom he wouldn't be the starting centerfielder and leadoff hitter from the largest in enrollment at Capital, to the best program in Hurricane and the top of the Kanawha Valley Class A food chain in Charleston Catholic.

One former Herbert Hoover player said that he was the best centerfielder he has seen. Coach Brian Young said, half-jokingly, he'll probably cry when Bird graduates.

"He's an unbelievable athlete," said Young, in his sixth season as head coach at Hoover. "If he wasn't such a good outfielder, he missed his calling on the mound. He's got a great fastball, he's got good command and he can just flat bring it."

That's just pitching, which he has done for only 12 innings this season with one earned run.

"At the plate," Young said, "he almost baits them with two strikes because he knows they have to come to him. His eyes get big and he just puts the ball in play."

Young said it seems like there's nothing he can't do.

Well, we might take home runs off the table, but maybe that's only because he doesn't try.

His job is to get on base, which he has done at an alarming rate.

Is he the toughest out in the 13-team Kanawha Valley?

Maybe the question is, do you really want to find out for yourself?

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at or 304-348-4837.


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