The grandson of a former Cleveland Indian pitcher, Clay Hurley wanted to play football coming out of high school, ended up briefly playing college basketball, and now is the leadoff man and starting centerfielder for the Case Western Reserve University baseball team.
His road to Cleveland has certainly been the one less traveled, but he wouldn't have it any other way.
Hurley, a pre-med student and biology major, graduated from Connellsville Area High School in 2005 with hopes of playing football for Lehigh University. But after coaching changes at the school during his senior year, he made the decision to attend Grove City College and take the hardwood for the Wolverines, where he played a limited role as a swingman during his freshman campaign.
"Coming out of high school, [when football wasn't an option] it was a toss up between basketball and baseball," Hurley said. "I talked to the coach from Grove City and it was a good fit."
But things changed for Hurley, and after a year at Grove City, he had a desire to return to the game he's always loved, and the game his grandfather, former Indians hurler Bobby Locke, always wanted him to play.
"I e-mailed Coach Englander when I was thinking about transferring, and he told me it was a young team with a bunch of new guys coming in, so I knew it would be a good fit," Hurley said. "Grove City felt like you were in a bubble all day long, there wasn't much to do. Coming to Cleveland, there's a ton to do, so the location has definitely been the biggest change for me."
Standing at six feet, five inches tall, most people would assume a player with his size should be playing first base. But early in his career, Hurley proved his size, speed, and abilities were better suited for centerfield, and that's where he's made his home for the Spartans.
But hitting leadoff this season is something he's never had to do.
"Growing up I was always taller than everyone else, so they always stuck me at first base because I was a big target," Hurley said. "In high school, I batted clean-up, which is totally different than hitting leadoff. It's been different trying to change my approach and my style, but I'm confident in the guys behind me."
Even though he's just a sophomore and is in his first season with the Spartans, Hurley has still taken a leadership role on a team that welcomed 16 freshmen this spring.
"I feel like I'm kind of in a leadership position here even though it's my first year," Hurley said. "I get along with everyone on the team and I think coming in, it seemed like I was part of the freshman class, but because I have that year of college under my belt they look to me for advice."
Hurley certainly found a great way to start his collegiate baseball career, as his single and collision at first base in the top of the ninth in the team's season-opener against No. 5 Emory sparked a four-run inning, leading to a 5-4 victory for Case Western Reserve.
"I guess my initial reaction from playing basketball for so long was to jump over him, and I just ended up getting his teeth in my knee," Hurley said. "The first thing I remember was coach telling me I scored everyone. I felt terrible that I knocked the kid's teeth out, so I went over and apologized to him after the game."
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