Corey Goodwin has been around Baltimore City baseball for a long time.
Goodwin played at Lake Clifton High School, graduating in 1995. He continued his playing career as a pitcher at University of Maryland Eastern Shore before getting into coaching at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in 2001. Goodwin became the Engineers' head coach in 2005.
Throughout the years, Goodwin has heard the same thing from skeptics -- baseball is a forgotten sport in Baltimore City Public Schools and the programs will never catch up to those in surrounding counties.
Goodwin's outlook permeates his entire team.
"As a city team, county teams always seem to look down on us as lower caliber or not worthy to play against them," junior first baseman Michael Heck said.
Doubters will quickly point to the overall brand of baseball as being inferior. Many Baltimore City teams are comprised of players who just started playing baseball and are learning the fundamentals.
It makes for more than a couple lopsided contests and also makes it tough for Poly to prepare to compete against top teams in certain aspects of the game.
"Playing in the city, we don't play on the best fields," senior third and first baseman Eric Noffsinger said. "It's not rare for there to be a big hole in centerfield you need to watch for and not to twist your ankle in the outfield. There's so many different things we have to deal with because of the situation we're in, but that doesn't mean we can't play at a high level."
Outside of Baltimore City, the Poly program is clawing and scratching to earn every inch of respect it can get from its opponents; but in league play, the Engineers are thriving.
Poly has become a consistent force during Goodwin's tenure. Goodwin has won more than 200 games as manager, and the Engineers have claimed nine City championships. The team has been particularly dominant in recent seasons, winning two of the last three Baltimore City titles.
"Coach Goodwin always has higher expectations for us than we even believe in ourselves. He believes in us more than we do," senior center fielder Robert Mack said. "Coach Goodwin always talks about winning titles, whether if it's city championships, like we already have accomplished, or state titles."
It's a passion Goodwin has not just for his Poly program but for the entirety of Baltimore City.
The baseball coaches of Baltimore City had extensive talks before the season, which were led by Goodwin and Lake Clifton's head coach Todd Henning. The focus of those conversations was about trying to generate more excitement surrounding the game.
The end result was a number of free clinics offered to any players in the city, where all the coaches would help with any aspect of the game, ranging from pitching to hitting and fielding. The alliance also agreed to bring back postseason accolades.
"This year, we're going to have an all-academic team as well as an all-star game," Goodwin said. "We'll have a postseason first and second team -- all those things have kind of gone by the wayside over the years. We have to get that back."
When the postseason awards are announced, there's a strong chance Poly will have more than a few players recognized.
Because Poly regularly has players who enter high school with baseball experience, it's allowed the group to spend less time focused on learning fundamentals and more on player development. In the summer and fall, Goodwin coaches teams that include many of his high school players. Plus, they participate in weight lifting and other aspects of training throughout the year.
"Those kids that want to dedicate themselves to baseball," Goodwin said, "they get better and better every year. When that happens, the team gets better, and when other players see that, they want to do it, too. We have had kids buy in to the approach of nonstop work."
The Engineers have also been blessed to have some truly talented ballplayers come through the baseball program, two of which have been the Heck brothers, Thomas and Michael.
Thomas Heck, who graduated from Poly last year, had a terrific high school career that saw him blossom into a standout big-game pitcher for the Engineers. He was on the mound when Poly topped Digital Harbor, 7-2, for the Baltimore City championship last spring, and he also got the ball in the Engineers' Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association state playoff game against Franklin.
Michael Heck, who is hitting better than .300 for his career, is expected to be one of Poly's top hitters and fielders this season after having an excellent sophomore campaign.
"Thomas embraced the leadership role," Goodwin said. "Michael is still growing into it because he's a junior, but they both affected the team positively in different ways. The kids really respond to the Heck brothers. They all like to follow great players, and both of them are."
Poly has beaten teams from surrounding counties during Goodwin's time in charge, but it's been awhile since the Engineers have found a way to do it in the MPSSAA state playoffs.
Last year was particularly heartbreaking, as the Engineers led Franklin (Baltimore County), 1-0, heading into the final inning. Poly was within one out of putting the game away before Franklin rallied and pulled away for a 3-1 victory.
The result has given Poly an added edge heading into this season.
"The biggest thing is we know what we're capable of," senior third baseman Nicklaus Powell said. "It's about us getting ourselves the confidence to get us that far. What really sets us apart is we have a target on our back from winning so many city championships. We have to work harder every year."
Looking ahead to this season, replacing Thomas Heck's efforts will play a big part in Poly's fate. The Engineers have a proven pitcher in junior Isaac Spokes, but beyond him, the rest of the pitching staff lacks experience at the varsity level, though Goodwin has faith in his young arms.
The team's expectations in league play are no different than they would be any other year. Poly believes another Baltimore City crown is well within its grasp.
It's when the Engineers play teams from outside the city during the playoffs that the team will truly measure itself.
"To beat them in the playoffs would be the ultimate push to show that Poly, even though it's a great program in the eyes of the city, means business," Michael Heck said.
While a playoff win against a county opponent would do wonders for Poly's baseball program, Goodwin's ultimate goal is to accomplish what no Baltimore City team has ever done.
"A state title has eluded me since I've been here, but we're getting closer to that," Goodwin said. "We believe we can do it, and as long we believe it, that's all that matters. A lot of people think a city team will never do it. We like it when people tell us what we can't do."
Issue 232: April 2017