Aug. 17, 2012
Cory Vance and six other former Tech star athletes will be inducted into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame on Oct. 19 at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center. Tickets are $50 and can be reserved by contacting Barb Dockweiler in the Alexander-Tharpe Fund – 404-894-6124 or email@example.com.
By Matt Winkeljohn
When tracing the trail of Cory Vance, you have a picture-perfect example of how imperfect or crooked the paths of a talented athlete can become. One gets a sense, too, for the knack some folks have for not letting a bad break turn them inside out.
When he joins six other former Georgia Tech student-athletes for their October induction into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame, it will be Vance’s first time back on campus since the left-handed pitcher was drafted in the fourth round in 2000 by the Colorado Rockies.
Asked Thursday what pops into his mind’s eye relative to his career at Tech, he said, “Great times. Under the lights, seeing the city in the background [from Russ Chandler Stadium]. I can visualize it right now, being on the mound on a Friday night.
“The friends I made. I can picture walking to and from class specifically. Inside the clubhouse, pre-game, in Walt’s training room. It’s all very vivid.”
Once a fire-balling lefty and now a firefighter in Tucson, Ariz., Vance was a Major Leaguer for a while in between.
His life has covered more ground than that.
Head coach Danny Hall relied on his Ohio roots to recruit Vance out of Vandalia, a suburb of Dayton. From 1998-’00, the young gun rang up 28 wins and put together a sublime junior year for the Yellow Jackets. He went 13-3 with 123 strikeouts in 119 innings, earned first team All-ACC honors and soon the Rockies called.
Those 13 wins tied for second-most ever for a Tech pitcher, his 328 career strikeouts rank fourth in school history, and his 28 wins are tied for fourth-most.
In the second half of ’02, the real whirlwind began.
“Late that season, I got a lucky call-up when [Colorado lefty] Mike Hampton was hurt,” he said. “In December of ’03, when I wanted to start getting ready for spring training, I picked up a ball and couldn’t throw it. It was in my high school gym back in Ohio. The very first throw, it was like, ‘Oh, no.’ I knew right then something was wrong.”
Vance has never really known what went wrong.
He was eventually diagnosed with nerve damage in his shoulder, but he can barely hazard a guess as to what caused it. “Maybe I slept on it wrong,” he said.
After plowing through considerable pain, Vance worked his way up to the Majors again in ’03, but that winter was something of a repeat of ’02.
He last pitched in a minor league game in ’04, and was out of professional baseball in ’06 – after four surgeries that didn’t solve his problems. “To this day, I still have numbness in my forearm,” Vance said.
There are a few chuckles in the telling of this story, and Cory doesn’t sound like a brooder over the phone.
He makes it abundantly clear that he’s looking forward to his return to Tech, and the second-most important spot from which he came (after Vandalia, of course). Several relatives will travel from Ohio to see and live it with him.
Vance has stories to add.
The Texas Rangers had claimed him off waivers in ’04, and he was rehabilitating in their spring training site of Surprise, Ariz., when, “I was in my hotel and I heard some commotion down in the parking lot.
“I opened my window, and yelled down at this woman . . . I was trying to joke around; I was a young, single guy. I asked her to lunch and she became my wife. “
Before long, Allison Cowart of Oregon – who on that occasion was arguing with a boyfriend who was attending the University of Arizona – married Cory Vance of Ohio. They’ve lived in Arizona ever since.
There’s more laughter here, and it’s hardy. They share two daughters, ages 6 and 9, and although Dad cannot boast about a long Major League career — he appeared in 11 games with the Rockies – he’s got plenty to brag about after all.
“It’s not because I haven’t wanted to that I haven’t been back; it’s just where my life has taken me,” Vance said. “I tried to be Johnny tough guy with the injury, but . . . I can still throw the ball well enough to play catch with my daughters and I’m stoked about that.
“I really can’t wait to show my wife and daughters Georgia Tech. It was a very, very important part of my life.”
I really hope to meet Vance, and all of the former student-athletes, in person in a couple months. There will be more great stories about them to come. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @mwinkeljohn