When he was pitching as a high school senior in Cedarville, Korbin Polly didn’t give much thought to playing baseball in college.
But Polly took advantage of a tryout, parlaying that into a walk-on position at Division I Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla. Two years later, he returned to his home area by transferring to UAFS.
Polly ended up pitching a variety of roles in his three seasons with the Lions, from a long reliever to a closer.
As a senior this past season, he got moved into the starting rotation where Polly flourished, recording a 5-0 record over six starts. He was also second on the team with a 2.51 earned-run average and was third in strikeouts with 37, logging a total of 46 2/3 innings.
“My three years at UAFS was unbelievable and I had so many good times. I thought the competition was pretty good in Division II,” Polly said. “I never cared about the different types of competition coming from a DI to a DII, I just knew you had to compete no matter what and we could tell the DII guys could compete very hard as well.
“Quality baseball is quality baseball and there’s talent everywhere and DII baseball is pretty tough as well.”
Polly nearly didn’t get the chance to start, much less to pitch down the stretch.
Early in the season, when he was still in the bullpen, he developed a shoulder injury. Other than a minor shoulder tweak while at Oral Roberts, Polly said he never had experienced any arm injuries until then.
“I don’t know what happened. One day I was playing catch and then I went to work out,” he said. “Then the next day I tried to play catch and I couldn’t throw the baseball.
“I did something to my shoulder, so I was out for a month and that really put a damper on me, I was pretty upset about it. I missed about 16 games, something like that.”
Of course, the inevitable feeling of doubt began creeping in, as Polly believed he had thrown the last pitch of his career.
“I thought for a while there, my baseball career was over,” he said. “I could barely throw the ball 10 yards and it was a scary feeling.”
But after receiving medical treatment, it didn’t take long before Polly could begin throwing practice sessions out of the bullpen. Eventually, he returned to the team.
His biggest break came on April 4 in an eventual loss to St. Edward’s. Polly was summoned by UAFS coach Todd Holland in the first inning to take over for the Lions’ starter that day, who had been struggling.
Then, Polly proceeded to throw 3 1/3 scoreless innings of relief. He was rewarded with a start the next week.
“I was told I would get the ball the following week, so I had to be ready,” Polly said.
Polly took advantage of that opportunity.
In his first start, on April 11 against Rogers State, Polly threw seven shutout innings in a 5-0 win. He started four more games, and won each of those next four starts.
Polly remarked it wasn’t much of a transition going from a relief pitcher to a starter.
“I actually thought it was easier (to start) coming out of the bullpen after being in the bullpen for four years, it felt great,” he said. “To me, it’s easier late in the game to where I’m making adjustments. You find your fastball, you find your slider, you find your change-up, whatever you’re throwing.
“Coming out of the bullpen to start for me, it felt great. You make adjustments in a game and you’re able to execute pitches better; you can do that coming out of the pen but you’ve got to be sharp, but I felt like as a starter if I stuck with it good at the beginning of a game, it got better. … As the year went on, I felt more relaxed as the game went on.”
Polly said his best start turned out to be his final start in a UAFS uniform.
On May 10, against Heartland Conference contender Lubbock Christian, he gave up two runs on five hits over seven innings in a 5-3 win, throwing a season-high 107 pitches.
Polly said another reason he liked that performance was it provided a measure of revenge for a four-game sweep to Lubbock Christian the year before, costing the Lions a regular-season conference title. In one of those games, Polly gave up a tie-breaking home run in the ninth inning.
“To end my college career, and maybe even my baseball career, I felt really blessed to finish how I did,” Polly said.
“This year, when I was told I would get the ball to start, I didn’t know what to expect. I was just worried about who would step up in the bullpen behind me and you can’t worry about that, you’ve just got to do your job and so I did. I just worried about my job.”
Even when the Lions’ season ended, and even after graduating from UAFS this spring with an associate’s degree in general studies and a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership, it still didn’t hit Polly that his college career, and in all likelihood his baseball career, was finally over.
That came a few weeks later, when Polly was watching the Major League Baseball draft.
“When it finally hit me was around the draft,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to be drafted, but it hit me whenever I realized I wasn’t drafted.”
But Polly isn’t totally done with the game. This summer, while also helping out with his stepfather’s plumbing business in northwest Arkansas, Polly is also coaching youth baseball on the side, and even offering pitching lessons.
He does aspire to be a coach someday. But he’s also hoping to get a tryout to play professional baseball, in much the same manner that he was able to get a chance to play in college.
If it doesn’t happen, though, Polly is content. Just as long as he is still able to be on a baseball diamond in some capacity, that will be fine with him.
“I still try to stay with the game of baseball. I love it,” Polly said. “I think it’s nice to help other kids out who really need (coaching), and I would like to see the kids I’ve coached go somewhere in baseball as well.”