Years after his dream of playing professional baseball ended, former Bernalillo High School Principal Tim McCorkle is back on the field.
Well, he’s in foul territory, but he’s back in the game he loves. “This is a dream job,” McCorkle said of his duties as “ball man; I won’t say ball boy.”
It probably serves him right for volunteering. He spent two seasons “back” in the game in the Isotopes’ dugout, another was helping out in the fourth-floor suites, and now he’s closer to the game. He fields foul balls, trying to keep them out of fair play to hasten the speed of the game and keep the outfielders from having to chase them down.
Born in Lincoln, Neb., to a father stationed at Offutt Air Force Base, McCorkle, 66, grew up idolizing outfielder Willie Mays, although as a youngster, he says, “My dad groomed me as a shortstop.” He has a vague memory of seeing Willie Mays, the “Say Hey Kid,” play, probably in his final year with the Mets, and not as a Giants star. Undoubtedly, he went to that ballgame with his father, and another “vivid” baseball memory was only a few years ago, when a buddy in Dallas got him tickets to see the Texas Rangers play.
As a youngster, McCorkle’s father was stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base, and as a stickler for detail — and grooming — grounded his son once for not having clean cleats. That was a lesson learned and remembered more than a half-decade later.
His best days as a player, though, came behind the plate.
One day in a youth league in the Duke City, nobody wanted to catch one of his teammates, a hard-throwing 15-yearold pitcher named Terry Landrum. So McCorkle, then 13, volunteered.
The two had been classmates at Highland High School, where McCorkle caught for the Hornets and Landrum wasn’t on the team. McCorkle was All-District, All-State and, “I was pretty tough. … I loved calling the game.”
“Tito” Landrum went on to be a big-league outfielder, winning World Series championships with Baltimore in 1983 and St. Louis in 1985, and McCorkle went on to play at the University of New Mexico.
That Lobo stint lasted one year, until he seriously injured his left thumb, and his Lobo playing days were soon over; he earned a letter, he’s happy to say. If only he’d stayed at shortstop, eh?
“I went to coach (Vince) Cappelli, told him I was going in another direction.” That direction, as it turned out, was into teaching — although he contemplated a career in journalism.
But after he got a tour at the Albuquerque Journal, he heard there wasn’t much money in that profession, where you “get paid by the inch.” Nor were there monetary rewards in television, which he heard during a tour of KOAT-TV.
“That’s when I decided I wanted to go into coaching,” he recalled, although he’s also done his share of teaching, as has his wife’s mother: In April, Ruthie Owens was inducted into the Albuquerque Public Schools Hall of Honor.
“She was a great mother-in-law, friend, mentor and confidant to me. Ruthie helped blossom my career in education,” McCorkle posted on Facebook at the time.
His fixation with the game wasn’t hurt, and McCorkle soon turned to coaching, initially in the Babe Ruth League and then leading the freshmen and junior varsity teams at Highland.
He got the Hornets’ varsity job at the age of 21 or 22.
Yeah, he admits, he was young, but “the thing is, I wanted it.”
He’s proud of where he’s come: “I was one of the first Black ballplayers at UNM, the first Black high school baseball coach in New Mexico and the first Black principal with Albuquerque Public Schools, and then the first Black principal at Bernalillo High School.
“I guess you could say I was a first,” he said. “I think coaches make great principals, because they know how to manage people.”
He was at West Mesa High School from 1983-2004, coaching baseball and recalling some intense games against Rio Rancho High School — the Mustangs and Rams were original members in District 1-5A when it began in 2001 and played each other at least twice a season through 2010. At WMHS, McCorkle also served as athletic director and dean of students, with 18 seasons in the dugout.
He laments a few good seasons when the Mustangs made the state tournament, only to be eliminated before they could get to a championship game — and onetime future Montreal Expos draft choice Shane Andrews was the culprit when he was starring at Carlsbad High.
He “retired” in May 2018 after 39 years in education, but he couldn’t stay away long. He followed that with three years as an assistant principal at Sandia High.
Later, he was the principal at Albuquerque High School for 11 years, spent a half-year at Laguna Middle School, and spent the past three years as principal at Bernalillo High School.
McCorkle also spent time in the summer, coaching a Petroglyph Little League team, with his son David on the roster. Among those highlights was beating an Albuquerque Little League team that had future pros Austin House and Mitch Garver, and when “My son got the winning hit against Eastdale.”
Better than win-loss records for McCorkle, after all these years, is the camaraderie with his players. He enjoyed his camaraderie with his staff at Bernalillo High School, although a new superintendent has shown him the door, replacing him in that role as BHS principal.
“He’s the superintendent; he can do what he wants,” McCorkle said, proud of the way Bernalillo High’s graduation rate was the highest it had been for the past six years — maybe forever.
He won’t take all the credit: The students and their parents, his staff and Pueblo tribal leaders were also credited by him.
“I’m real proud of what my students and staff accomplished — the greatest (among them) is what we accomplished during COVID.”
He’s sorry to go, but — knowing McCorkle — he’ll land on his feet somewhere.
As for the current state of the pastime, McCorkle says, “The (designated hitter) takes the strategy out of the game. I don’t like that.”
But you can’t take that love for the game out of McCorkle.