The day will come for all professional baseball players. Through their choice or a team’s decision, their playing days will end. Sooner for some than others. Being told you are not good enough to continue would be not easy for anyone to hear.
For 25-year-old Collin Woody, the words came late in spring training in 2019. A 38th-round draft pick by the Orioles in 2016 out of UNC-Greensboro, Woody played from 2016 through 2018. He never hit over .226. He had a 228-game career that reached as high as Single-A Frederick.
A corner infielder and outfielder with a good arm, the Orioles even had Woody try pitching briefly at instructional league in 2018.
But there would be no move to Double-A Bowie and a meeting he was not quite ready to have took place ahead of opening day 2019.
“We came into (2019) spring training light,” Woody recalled in a recent interview. “I mean, we didn’t have as many players as we had in my experience in the past. So there were not really as many cuts that needed to be made. I already knew I was a bubble guy. I had been that guy my whole career. Always fighting to make a team every year.
“One day, I was working out and someone comes in and said they need to talk to you. I said, ‘Here we go.’ They said they wanted me to transition into a new role. I thought they wanted me to try pitching again. They said, ‘No, how would you feel about coaching?’
“I realized this was a way of them telling me I wasn’t going to make a team and wasn’t going to play baseball anymore. It was emotional. No one wants to be told they are not playing anymore. But they were generous and said take as much time as you need to think about it. They said if I wanted to try and play for another organization to let them know and they’d help as much as they can.”
So the day had come for Woody. Should he try to hook on with another club and try to make it there? Or was this a sign that it was finally time to put the bats and gloves away?
He met with Orioles director of minor league operations Kent Qualls and short-season Single-A Aberdeen manager Kevin Bradshaw. They offered him the role of player/coach for the 2019 Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Orioles.
“It was an emotional day, but I have a lot of gratitude to the Orioles organization for giving me a way to stay in baseball,” said Woody. “It felt really nice for them to ask me to coach. I closed one door and opened another up. I had a lot to think about though and made calls to my parents and some mentors of mine and had some real conversations about what I should do. You know you can’t play until you’re 70 years old, but you can coach until you are 70.
“Once I thought about it, I realized the whole goal is to make it to the big leagues. And the team I am with currently is telling me they don’t have a spot on the roster, but they like me enough to keep me around. Maybe that is the way I’m going to get to the big leagues.”
It didn’t hurt that Woody could seek advice from someone with an incredibly impressive baseball resume. At Wharton High School in Tampa, he had an assistant coach who produced 3,010 hits in a Major League career that ended in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
“I had an assistant coach in high school you’ve probably heard of him: Wade Boggs,” Woody said. “He and I have kept in contact over the years. One of the things he said to me was the whole goal is to make it to big leagues. I had thought about coaching at the end of my playing career. I just wished my career had lasted longer.
“But when I played, anytime I could help another player, I was happy to share info or whatever. It was something I liked to do. So it’s been an easy transition. I’m still passing on knowledge and trying to help guys get better. Just now as a coach.”
Right now, there are no coaches on any fields. Woody, who also spent time late last year helping at Aberdeen, is currently spending time with his girlfriend and her family in Leesville, La. He keeps tabs on players and coaches in the organization through numerous Zoom videos. Sometimes he’s on two calls a day.
“I think it’s been good,” Woody said of the video meetings and get togethers. “We’re doing what we can. We’d all rather be showing up at the ballpark every day. I’d even love sitting on a bus for eight hours right now over sitting with my laptop each day. Having said that, we’re doing a good job using this time to do what we can to push the organization forward. Whether that is a mindset or culture that we’re building. Or whether that is actually physically organizing ourselves to get ready when we do get baseball back.”
If baseball returns this summer, Woody is slated to be the fundamentals coach at Frederick for manager Kyle Moore.
Some might wonder how a guy who never hit .300 or made All-Star Games in his short career can he help other young players. But the game is filled with great coaches who didn’t have great careers as players.
“Sometimes you have guys where it didn’t come as easy to them,” Woody said. “Not to take hard work away from those very good at this game, but I would say the reason why you see that a lot is guys had to constantly search for answers on how to do things better. How can I make myself better? That is why you see a lot of guys with knowledge to offer that maybe didn’t hit .320 in the big leagues. But they’re incredible hitting coaches. They have knowledge to offer because they had to study so much to get answers to make themselves better that once they were done playing, they are like ‘Wow, I have this batch of knowledge about the game.’ Guys get enjoyment about continuing to search for answers for guys as a coach.”
KBO gets airtime: Yesterday in this entry, I wrote about former O’s pitcher Tyler Wilson getting ready to start his third season in the Korea Baseball Organization. The KBO season began very early this morning, U.S. East Coast time.
Yesterday came word that ESPN will televise six KBO games per week. Yep, live baseball. Now the game times will usually be 1 a.m. or 5:30 a.m. because South Korea is 13 hours ahead of Baltimore. So there is no chance to get these games live in the evening in the United States.
ESPN will use its own announcers working remotely from their home studios to call the games. The next live broadcast is 5:30 a.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday with the LG Twins (Wilson’s team) against the Doosan Bears with Karl Ravech and Eduardo Perez on the call. The network aired a game earlier today at 1 a.m. and that game between the NC Dinos and Samsung Lions will re-air today at 3 p.m. on ESPN2.