By JASON ELMQUIST
STILLWATER — It’s been a long time coming for Oklahoma State freshman Corey Hassel.
The journey for the Stillwater High graduate has been long in the making, going back to his time as a two-sport athlete for the Pioneers as a star wide receiver on the football team, to a staple at center field for the SHS baseball program.
All his hard work culminated last week when he got his first start as a member of the Cowboy baseball squad against Central Arkansas.
“At first it was kind of overwhelming because I’ve worked so hard, even from starting in high school, to get to this point,” Hassel said. “To finally see my hard work pay off and finally get in the starting lineup at a program like this against two big programs is kind of overwhelming. But I was able to calm my nerves and it was just very exciting for me.”
But the moment didn’t end there.
A midweek start is nice and all, but getting a weekend nod in Big 12 Conference play is another level. And so Friday night, with the No. 19 Cowboys facing a left-handed pitcher for Texas, Hassel was given his second start in the same week.
For Hassel, last week was redemption. It was proof that the hard work he had been putting in with the OSU coaching staff was paying dividends — something earlier in the season was questioning.
“They always say hard work pays off and there for a while I wasn’t quite questioning but more wondering exactly how hard you have to work and wasn’t sure if I was doing the right type of work,” the SHS grad said. “I just kept trusting what the coaches were telling me, kept trusting what I’ve always been told and what I’ve always done and it ended up paying off, finally. And I ended up having the time of my life playing.”
That’s what first-year coach Josh Holliday is looking for in his Cowboys.
When he was first hired to coach his alma mater he heard all about what to expect from Hassel.
“You talk to people who knew him in high school, as a multi-sport athlete, all of them said, ‘Oh, Corey Hassel, you’re going to like him. He’s a tough kid. He’s a competitor and he’s going to work hard for you,’” Holliday said. “I think he had established that that was who he was, so I felt good about that coming in that this kid was a tough cookie and he would come at it every day with a high level of pride. And that’s good because that’s what we’re looking for, too.”
And so Hassel worked. And worked. And in the second series of the season, Hassel got his first chance as a pinch hitter in a lopsided win over Alcorn State. In his first at-bat as a member of the program he grew up loving, he reached base on a walk.
Since then, he has seen action in 12 more games and seen a total of eight at bats. He’s drawn a walk in half of those appearances and has collected two hits — as well as two RBIs, including one that sparked a four-run rally to put away Texas in his second start of the season.
The OSU freshman has given credit to senior Trey Whaley and junior Aaron Cornell for his maturation process since stepping on the OSU campus as a Cowboy.
“Trey really understands the grind of playing both infield and outfield. They ask a lot of you. It takes a lot ... and he really knows what that’s like and we talk about it a lot,” Hassel said. “Cornell brings a lot of energy to the table. He’s a great team player who doesn’t care about his stats, and that’s really who I’m trying to model my game after. He’s a dirt bag just like I am, who will play until somebody tells him to stop and that’s what I want to instill in my game.”
His work ethic — which Holliday said has been one of the key factors for Hassel’s opportunity of late — comes from before his time at Oklahoma State. And even further back than his time under SHS baseball coach Tony Holt.
The constant strive to be better and play beyond his 5-foot-10, 158-pound frame comes from his father, Troy Hassel.
“My dad was the first person to instill work ethic into me because he mentioned how I would never be the biggest guy on the field, never going to be the most athletic, never going to be the strongest or fastest, but if you work hard you can develop a lot of skills,” Corey said. “I feel that’s really where my work ethic began and I’ve kept working hard and it all kind of paid off.”
And it’s his dad — who has been to OSU games regardless if his son were to play or not, the first person to talk to him about the day’s game — that Hassel was most happy for last week when he saw his name in the starting lineup.
“He’s not a real emotional guy, but I could tell that there was some hidden emotion in there and that he was really excited for me,” Hassel said. “... I think he was really excited. I think he was really happy for me. That really makes me happy because he’s the only family I have here in Stillwater.
“So for him to be able to watch me and watch all my games and to see how excited he was to see me play and how my hard work is starting to pay off — when he was the one who instilled it in me — is something really special.”
The 19th-ranked Cowboys will face the University of Kansas in a three-game series in Lawrence, Kan., starting at 6 p.m. Friday.