MLB Outfielder Corey Julks realizes his childhood dream of playing baseball for the hometown Houston Astros
Baseball is considered “America’s Pastime” and has become an internationally embraced sport.
Making it to the Major Leagues is what every aspiring baseball player hopes for, but it is extremely challenging. According to statistics:
- Less than three out of 50 (5.6%) high school senior boys playing interscholastic baseball will play men’s baseball at an NCAA college or university.
- Roughly one in 200 (0.5%) high school senior boys playing interscholastic baseball will be drafted by a Major League Baseball (MLB) team; and
- Less than eleven in 100 (10.5%) NCAA senior male baseball players will get drafted by an MLB team.
Trying to make it to the Major Leagues as an African American baseball player is even more challenging.
The game of baseball has historically served as a catalyst to help cultivate the talents of African Americans who traditionally couldn’t play in the Major Leagues. Blacks could only participate in the ever-popular and game-changing Negro Leagues, which blossomed significantly and served as the springboard to Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson’s MLB debut. The game of baseball also helped address the hot-button issues of racial integration in this country, during those very tumultuous times.
Robinson became the first African American player to break the MLB color barrier in 1947, and although other African American players joined him afterwards, the all-time high of African Americans playing the game was in 1981, and was only 18.7 percent. Since 1981, the percentage of African American players in the MLB has significantly fallen, dropping to well under 10 percent, with opening day rosters for MLB teams at the beginning of this year being only 6.1 percent, or 58 out of 945 Black players, that were on the active, injured, and restricted lists, according to a study done by USA TODAY Sports.
As stated, trying to make it to the Major Leagues is extremely challenging, regardless of race, but how many people can say that they got the opportunity to play the game they love, in their own hometown?
Well, Houston Astros outfielder and burgeoning MLB baseball star Corey Julks can make that claim.
The Forward Times recently sat down exclusively with Julks to find out more about the hometown baseball player’s rise to the Major Leagues.
Julks, 27, is a former Clear Brook High School and University of Houston baseball player, who was drafted in 2017 by the Houston Astros in the eighth round, and eventually called up to the Major Leagues on March 28th of this year. He had a 31-homer season in 130 games, playing for the Triple-A Sugar Land Space Cowboys last year, where he also had 100 runs scored, 89 RBIs, a .270 batting average, a .503 slugging percentage, and 22 stolen bases. Julks made his MLB debut with the Astros on March 31st, getting his first MLB hit after singling on his first at-bat against the Chicago White Sox. Since being called up, Julks has played extremely well.
As of June 1st, he has appeared in 42 games with 4 home runs, 20 runs scored, 18 RBIs, a .260 batting average, a .393 slugging percentage, and 6 stolen bases.
Julks states that although his father never played baseball, he got him involved in various sports at around five-years-old, primarily to keep him busy and out of trouble.
Julks played baseball and basketball, but grew to love the game of baseball more fondly.
“I played baseball and basketball, but I knew I wasn’t tall enough to make a living playing basketball, so I realized baseball was my best chance,” Julks said jokingly. “At around 10 years old, I remember telling my dad, just like every kid growing up, that I was gonna be in the Big Leagues. I believed in myself and had great family and friends always pushing me, so I kept my head on strong and sought to make my dreams come true.”
Julks didn’t originally have any Division I schools looking at him coming out of Clear Brook High School and had only received an offer to go play baseball at Angelina College—a public community college primarily located in Lufkin, Texas—before the University of Houston came knocking at the door with his one and only Division I offer, late in his senior year of high school.
That was just the opportunity that Julks needed, and he took full advantage of it.
“I always believed that I would go far in baseball, even when other people didn’t always back that up,” Julks humbly expressed. “I was never really going to all the big showcases and stuff like that, and growing up I was not on the map real big, so I had to work and grind at it. A lot of my high school coaches were pushing me, and I got to college and learned from a lot of good players and coaches there, and all of that has helped me now that I’m playing pro ball.”
Julks states that one of his favorite athletes of all time was Kobe Bryant, because his mentality was phenomenal and has kept him focused on being one of the best he can be in the Major Leagues.
“Kobe Bryant was someone I looked up to, and I always want to keep that Kobe mentality going,” Julks proclaimed. “I have always had that chip on my shoulder, and I have always felt like I’ve had something to prove. I still have that chip to this day, and that kinda gives me my edge.”
Julks points to MLB outfielder and 2013 National League MVP Andrew McCutchen, and Hall of Famer and five-time World Series Champion Derek Jeter, as two of his childhood inspirations growing up, along with Hall of Famers and hometown Astros legends Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio.
“Growing up, I was playing shortstop back then, so I was always trying to do that jump throw like Jeter, and stuff like that just to keep the game fun,” Julks recalled. “I tried to get everybody’s swings and tried to learn from them and copy their swings and stuff like that, just being a kid.”
Julks states that making the necessary adjustments, learning how Major League pitchers are attacking him, learning when to be aggressive, and learning how to slow the game down a little bit, are a few of the things that he is consistently working on to get better as he is playing the game at this highest level.
When asked by the Forward Times what it means to have Julks on the team, Astros manager Dusty Baker said that it is extremely important.
“I think it’s not only important for baseball, but it’s important for the city of Houston, and I believe it’s important to motivate other players out there who want to be Corey Julks,” said Baker. “As a young, aspiring player, you don’t think you have much of a chance or an opportunity, but the more guys you see like Corey, the more you think you have a chance and an opportunity.”
Baker, 73, was extremely vocal during and after the Astros’ World Series championship run last year, expressing his disappointment in the fact that no U.S. born, African American players were on any of the competing team’s World Series active roster for the first time in 72 years.
Baker said that he sees change on the horizon, but emphasized that Julks’ talent supersedes his race when it comes to being in the Major Leagues and having a spot on the current Astros roster.
“Corey is not on the team because he is African American, he’s on the team because he can play, and who happens to be an African American,” said Baker. “He’s playing well and he’s gonna get better.”
When told that Baker said he was not only playing at a high level but was going to get better, Julks was humbled by the words of praise and encouragement from his manager, who is also a baseball icon.
“Any praise from Dusty, like that, is awesome,” said Julks. “He’s had over 50 years in this game, so anything he tries to tell me, I’m all ears, and I respect him more than anything. So, anytime I get a compliment like that from someone of that stature, it’s awesome.”
Julks said he loves his city and loves playing for the Houston Astros, and encourages all young, African American kids to get involved in all sports and to pursue their dreams.
“Any kid growing up, I would say play as many sports as you can, while you can, and just keep going no matter what anybody tells you,” Julks said emphatically. “Believe in yourself and chase your dreams. Just give it a chance because you never know. You may fall in love with this game like I was lucky enough to do.”
Corey Julks has a bright future ahead of him in the MLB, and hopefully as a longstanding part of the Houston Astros growing legacy!