One of the beauties of baseball is that, unlike in most other sports, successful players can come in all shapes and sizes. That said, there are a handful of attributes shared by those who play the game at the highest levels. For instance, the very best baseball players all have superior hand-eye coordination. They all put in countless hours of work behind the scenes to hone their craft. And they're all incredibly superstitious.
So it comes as no surprise that when Aviators manager Fran Riordan was recently asked to explain infielder Corban Joseph's current hot streak at the plate, he pointed to a completely non-baseball-related event: "Well, he got a haircut. And ever since he did that, he's been batting 1.000."
Riordan, of course, was exaggerating just a tad: While Joseph did recently get his locks shorn, and while the new 'do did coincide with a dramatic offensive uptick, he has not, in fact, been batting 1.000. But he's been pretty darn close. For sure, you'd be hard-pressed to find another player at any level of professional baseball who is swinging a hotter stick than Joseph.
Through the first six games of the Aviators' season-long 12-game homestand that started Friday, Joseph is 13-for-24 (.542 average) with a home run, three doubles, three runs and five RBI. After going 1-for-4 in the Aviators' wild 9-8 come-from-behind victory over the Salt Lake Bees on Wednesday at Las Vegas Ballpark, Joseph is now riding a seven-game hitting streak. Not only that, but he's recorded multi-hit games in five of six games on the homestand.
Add it all up, and since the calendar flipped to May, Joseph has pushed his average from .293 to .369. So, yeah, clearly the haircut worked - but so did some adjustments at the plate.
"I finally got a little bit of my timing back, and I'm just trying to be a little more selective at the plate," Joseph says. "Early on in the season, everybody's excited and amped up, and when that happens, sometimes we drift away from our plan a little bit. So it just got to the point where I wanted to tighten the screws and go back to what has made me successful in the past - just relax up there and try to be the player that I am instead of the player I'm not. For me, that means trying to barrel balls up, get good pitches to hit and swing at the right pitch."
The approach hasn't gone unnoticed by his manager.
"He's been doing a really nice job of getting himself into some good hitter's counts, and once he does get his pitch, not missing it," Riordan says. "When you're locked in and your strike zone discipline is strong, you can wait pitchers out until they do make a mistake. And he's been taking advantage of those mistakes."
Looking at Joseph up close, few would guess the clean-cut, 6-foot, 185-pounder from Franklin, Tennessee, passed the 30-year-old barrier back in October. Fewer still would guess that he's now in his 12th season of professional baseball and playing in his 13th different city.
A fourth-round selection of the New York Yankees in 2008, Joseph is closing in on 1,100 professional games played, but only 16 of those have been in the major leagues. In 2013, he got one hit (a double) in six at-bats with the Yankees, then last year with the Baltimore Orioles he appeared in 14 games, going 4-for-18 with a double before being sent back to the Double-A Bowie Baysox, where he ended up batting .312 with 17 home runs and 68 RBI in 122 games.
Given his versatility (he can play all over the infield) and his sustained success across the board in the minor leagues (where he's a career .287 hitter with 83 home runs, 245 doubles and 517 RBIs), Joseph would be forgiven if he were to express frustration over his lack of big-league opportunities. That's especially true given that his older brother, Caleb, is a catcher who has spent parts of the past five season in the majors, appearing in 411 games with the Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks.
But if that frustration exists, the even-keeled Corban Joseph isn't about to show it.
"I'm just fulfilling my time playing professional baseball, trying not to take it for granted and enjoying every minute," says Joseph, who signed a one-year minor-league deal last offseason with the Aviators' parent club, the Oakland A's. "I love the game, and I think once you start taking for granted the opportunity you have before you, there's no real reason to play anymore.
"I mean, how many guys get to say they're a professional baseball player? It's something extremely special, so as long as I'm healthy, I'm going to keep going after it. But if I'm supposed to be a lifetime minor-leaguer then I'm going to play as hard as I can and help these younger kids with their mental mindset or the stuff on the field that I've learned to help them take some shortcuts in their career, and maybe they'll get their shot."
It's the kind of attitude Aviators hitting coach Eric Martins appreciates.
"He's one of those guys who doesn't really say much, but he leads by example with how he works and how he understands the grind of the season. He doesn't get too up or too down, which is good for our younger guys to see," Martins says. "They're a bunch of sponges, and they're watching what he does and what [fellow Aviators veteran Eric] Campbell does. They're learning about just being a professional, how to go about your business on a daily basis."
Count Martins among those who believe Joseph's big-league dreams are very much still within reach. "He's got a lot left in the tank, and he's so versatile. He's going to get another opportunity at some point - hopefully with [the A's], but if not, with somebody else."
In the meantime, Joseph plans to keep chugging along, living by that time-worn "taking things one day at a time" baseball cliché. And when that hot bat he's currently swinging cools off, well, rest assured he's got his barber's number on speed dial - much to his wife's dismay.
"She hates it when it's this short," Jospeh says, laughing. "But it worked last year, and it seems to be working this year. As long as I'm hitting, it shouldn't matter!"
Aviators Flying High: One night after an impressive come-from-behind 3-1 victory over Salt Lake, the Aviators on Wednesday pulled off their most astonishing Houdini act of the young season. Trailing 7-2 early and 8-5 late, Las Vegas pushed across four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to steal a 9-8 victory from the Bees before a crowd of 8,038 at Las Vegas Ballpark.
Shortstop Jorge Mateo (3-for-5, HR, triple, 2 runs, 3 RBI) had yet another productive night, delivering the winning hit courtesy of a one-out single up the middle. Las Vegas right-hander Brian Schlitter retired the Bees in order in the top of the ninth for the victory, which was the second in a row for the Aviators (20-14).
Besides Mateo, Las Vegas on Wednesday got key contributions from designated hitter Seth Brown (two-run single), Dustin Fowler (2-for-5, run, 2 RBI) and Beau Taylor (2-for-3, 2 runs).
Game Notes: Las Vegas starting pitcher Edwin Jackson scuffled in his five innings of work Wednesday, yielding seven runs (all earned), six hits and three walks, though he did strike out six. … The Bees and Aviators continue their four-game series at 7:05 p.m. Thursday, when Las Vegas right-hander Jake Buchanan (2-1, 6.39) opposes Salt Lake right-hander Jaime Barria (1-0, 7.20).
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.