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COMMENTARY

From Batavia, memories affirm the legend of Patrick Corbin, new World Series hero

Sean Kirst

Albion native Andre Kinder watched the seventh game of the World Series while packing boxes at his apartment near Rochester, preparing for a move to take a new job in Pittsburgh.

Aaron Kent, a graduate of Lyndonville High School, picked up quick reports about the game while working a night shift as a sheriff's deputy in North Carolina.

Nate Parrino, a state trooper based in Geneseo, had the night off from patrol and could settle in and watch it all unfold, but even then he only vaguely recalled his direct connection to Patrick Corbin, a guy who will now go down as a legend of this series.

The Washington Nationals beat the Houston Astros on the road Wednesday, 6-2, in the seventh and deciding game. The winning pitcher was Corbin, who threw three shutout innings under intense pressure and performed the way the Nationals hoped he would when they signed him to a $140 million contract last December.

The gleaming performance put him in the reliever-comes-through-big-time company of such series icons as Walter Johnson and Joe Page, but Kinder, Kent and Parrino crossed paths with Corbin at a last transition from a vastly different point in life – a time of bus rides that extended deep into the night and of a $6 or $7 allowance to shove down a meal at an Arby's or McDonalds.

In spring 2008, Corbin was a left-handed 19-year-old pitcher with the Mohawk Valley Community College team of Utica when it traveled to Batavia, by bus, for a doubleheader near the season's end at Dwyer Stadium, home of the Batavia Muckdogs of the Single A NY-Penn League.

The greatest testament to any game of baseball is a scorebook, whose batter-by-batter account explains the outcome, in detail, far more precisely than the best attempt at words. So it speaks to the humble nature of the situation that Mohawk Valley Coach Dave Warren and Genesee Community College Coach Skip Sherman were both unable to find a book for that game Thursday, when they went hunting.

Yet Warren can vividly see the final inning of the second game in his mind, a memory strengthened by a brief online summary that still appears on a Genesee Community College website. He remembers the score was tied and that Corbin was at full steam on the mound, when a GCC batter drove a ball toward right that got through and beat Mohawk Valley and Corbin, 4-3.

Corbin, whose dad drove a truck for a sausage company and whose mother is a nurse, came from the kind of working family Warren admires, and encounters all the time. He believes that pitch was the last one Corbin officially threw during his time at Mohawk Valley, the final takeoff stage before the cascade of events that eventually lifted him into this week's global spotlight.

The challenge Wednesday was finding the batter who managed to beat a soon-to-be legend on a quiet day, in Batavia.

Nate Parrino, who went on to play for SUNY Brockport, is now a state trooper. When he heard that a journalist was trying to contact him about Corbin, he initially assumed I was really trying to reach his brother, Andrew Parrino, who spent a couple of years in the major leagues.

"Wow!" Parrino said, when he found out he was the guy who got the two-out "walk-off"  RBI against Corbin. "I can tell you this: I was always pretty pumped up to get a hit off a lefty." And he said it was "definitely cool" to compete against someone who was so pivotal in a World Series.

But Parrino, whose duty with the troopers makes it harder to compete these days even in the leagues he cheerfully calls "old man baseball," said the memory joins into one great whirling stream of the games he played in college at GCC and then at SUNY Brockport.

Warren, the coach who brought Corbin to Mohawk Valley, played a role in a tale that is quickly rising toward baseball mythology. Corbin, a fine athlete, did not go out for varsity baseball at Cicero-North Syracuse High School until his junior year, and part of the appeal for him of playing in Utica was the idea that he could also play basketball.

Indeed, Warren remembers when the two seasons overlapped, "and he would come over to pitch some bullpen in his basketball shorts."

At Mohawk Valley, Corbin was 4-3 with a 1.87 earned run average and 56 strikeouts in 45 innings, and his coach said he only seemed to grow stronger as the year went on. The loss to GCC stung, and Warren remembers Corbin's quiet disappointment as he left the field and the weary silence on the bus ride home.

Warren also recalls what he describes as a signature moment that summer, standing near the bleachers during a baseball camp, when his phone buzzed and it was Corbin.

He had received an offer to pitch at Chipola College in Florida, an opportunity that would make it far more likely that he would get a shot at playing pro ball, and he was filled with regret about leaving. Warren said he told him that he had to go, knowing what it would mean in the way of exposure to pro scouts.

"Just a great kid, a quiet humble kid," Warren said. He loves the idea that Corbin – and the way he came to Mohawk Valley – is a shining reminder of the potential of students who sign up for community college for any reason, and he has stayed in touch with his former pitcher over the years.

This morning, he sent him a text that basically said: "I've got no words. Just so proud. Simply amazing."

Aaron Kent, who came out of Lyndonville in Orleans County to be Corbin's teammate at Mohawk Valley, said that even at the time, Corbin had an almost mystical level of talent and bearing that somehow set him apart.

"There are people who talk about it and people who are about it, if you know what I mean," Kent said. While most of the players Kent knew in community college cared deeply about the game but had reached a point in life where they accepted realistic expectations, "Pat had a gift," Kent said.

He batted against Corbin only twice, and he described both times – one of them indoors amid rough Upstate weather – "as the most uncomfortable at-bats I ever had," moments when he became aware Corbin had skills on an entirely different tier. Kent vaguely remembers the game in Batavia, mainly because many relatives and friends came to see him play, but he said he is not astounded by Corbin's success.

Still. To see him at the absolute center of attention on the game's highest stage?

"He's a great guy," Kent said, "and I'm just so happy for him."

As for Andre Kinder, preparing to take a job with Westinghouse in Pittsburgh, he is pretty sure he was the winning pitcher, in relief, in that Batavia contest against Corbin. "I was straightening up my apartment and watching the game," Kinder said of Corbin's dominance this week, "and I thought, 'Crazy sometimes how things can happen.' "

He remembers Corbin as one of those athletes whose skill is linked to a kind of beautiful ease, "a guy who seemed to be pitching without all that much effort and then, when you were up there, the ball would get on you fast."

Kinder, 30, grew up in Albion. His dad drove a plow and paved roads for the state Department of Transportation, and his hero and role model was his older brother Derrick. They used to have intense games of batter-pitcher in the backyard, hurling a tennis ball with everything they had, pretending they were going up against one of the best pitchers in the World Series.

As of Wednesday night, Kinder can someday tell his kids that it was true.

Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Buffalo News. Email him at skirst@buffnews.com or read more of his work in this archive.

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