published Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Wiedmer: Gearrin demoted after first big-league win

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    Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Cory Gearrin heads to the dugout in the 11th inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros on Tuesday in Atlanta. Atlanta won 3-1 in 11 innings. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

If Rhea County High School graduate Cory Gearrin didn’t know major league baseball was a cold, cruel business before Tuesday afternoon, he painfully does this morning.

Roughly an hour after the Atlanta Braves reliever recorded the first big-league win of his career against the Houston Astros, his employer sent him back to Triple-A Gwinnett to make room for Julio Teheran, who’s expected to start tonight at Arizona.

“It’s a shame,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez told MLB.com afterward. “[Cory] was outstanding. He gets his first win in the major leagues and we’ve got to make a player move to shut him down.”

The good part is that Gearrin isn’t being sent down because of flaws so much as fate. When injured starter Brandon Beachy was placed on the 15-day disabled list over the weekend and Atlanta found itself without an off day this week, the organization had little choice but call on Teheran for a spot start.

But because of that, it would also not be surprising to see Gearrin return to the big club within the week. Especially given the 25-year-old righty’s 3.18 ERA and .158 opponents’ batting average in 10 appearances this spring.

Said an optimistic Gearrin upon learning the news: “It’s been fun and I can’t wait to get back. This is what I’ve been working for my whole life.”

But it’s what he did when he came back to East Tennessee a little more than a week ago that should make all Rhea County residents proud.

All set to enjoy a rare off day on May 9, following the Braves’ Sunday night win at Philadelphia, Gearrin instead learned from former high school teammate Steven Kinney that the Golden Eagles were playing Soddy-Daisy that day in a District 5-AAA semifinal game at Walker Valley.

So instead of driving home to Rhea County to see family and friends, Gearrin headed to the north end of Bradley County to watch his old high school play. But that was just part of the story.

“I should have known something was up when Steven called me and asked me what size bats we use,” said current Rhea coach Mike Kinney, Steve’s older brother. “But I guess I was too focused on the game.”

The game about to begin, Gearrin arrived at the Eagles’ dugout with no fewer than three new Easton bats, which Rhea assistant Rusty Ray — who played high school ball with Cory’s father, Tim — said “probably cost somewhere between $250 to $300 apiece.”

“I was warming up in the bullpen when I saw Cory come down to the field,” said Eagles senior Cameron Tallent, who started on the mound that day against the Trojans. “It excited me like crazy. Then he walked over to me and said, ‘I’ll give you a little advice: Hitters stink!’

“It’s just like the coaches have always told us about him. He’s a great guy.”

Alas, the Eagles couldn’t deliver a win for their former star. But that didn’t make Gearrin’s visit any less memorable or inspiring.

“I told him about the time his father and I were playing a game against a school I won’t name, and Tim rolled his ankle running over first base,” Ray recalled. “The third basemen for this school screams at him, ‘I hope you broke your [expletive deleted] ankle!’ Then the inning’s over and we look in their dugout and this guy’s smoking a cigarette between innings. I don’t think Cory had ever heard that story.”

Said Cory of the entire experience: “Just to get to watch those guys and talk to them and cheer for them was the coolest thing in the world.”

We live in a time when it’s not always cool to cheer for your school, when athletes — even at the high school level — are sometimes more concerned with the names on the backs of their jerseys than the fronts. But Gearrin has never been one of those guys.

Asked last weekend what he’d most enjoyed about his time with Atlanta, he said, “Just to be with a team like the Braves where everybody’s so committed to winning and doing it honorably.”

Asked how concerned he was about being sent down, Gearrin smiled and said, “If I never get back here again, it’s been the greatest time of my life.”

Perhaps that’s why Mike Kinney said this about a player he never coached: “We talk to the kids all the time about having pride in where you came from and who you represent. I don’t think it ever really sunk in until Cory walked in our dugout and said, ‘I had a day off so I thought I’d come watch you guys play.’”

Said Tallent: “I’ll never forget it. Before last week I didn’t know much about him except what I’d read in the papers. Now I’ll stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning just to see Cory get in the game.”

As Gonzalez said Tuesday, it’s a shame those moments have been put on hold for a while.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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