Tennessee Dirtbags Teammate Story

Brother act just a couple of Dirtbags!

By GLENN MILLER
Roy Hobbs Baseball

Kelly Copeland was the jock when they were kids, the one who was more interested in baseball than his brother Korey.

“Growing up we were not close,” Kelly said.

Although they are separated by only 20 months, their interests didn’t mesh precisely as youngsters. Kelly pursued baseball, playing in high school and college. Korey, who played baseball as a kid but not with the same passion as Kelly, went into the Marine Corps after high school and served in Desert Storm.

Now, they have something in common – they’re Dirtbags. That’s Tennessee Dirtbags, to be clear, as in the name of their team.

And before that they were Murfreesboro Mudcats.

And now, as grown men closing in on 50, the Copelands are close and have been playing Roy Hobbs together since 2000. Baseball has helped bond the brothers through mud, dirt and associated grime.

“We both hate to lose,” Kelly, 48, said. “We’re both very intense. We both love the game. I’ve always loved the game. He’s grown to love the game.”

And they love being teammates. That may be the best part of Roy Hobbs Baseball for both men.

“Just the camaraderie, making memories is the most important thing,” Korey said.

Part of what makes sharing the game particularly sweet for Kelly is what his brother has endured and overcome.

When Korey, 46, served in Desert Storm, he recorded audio letters to send home to the family.

“It wasn’t like he went over there and sat in a tent,” Kelly said.

That was clear when Kelly and others in the Copeland family listened to the recordings. On the audio letters, Kelly said, one could hear planes zooming overhead and explosions in the distance.

“Korey never complained about anything,” Kelly said.

Then came another scare for Korey – non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Kelly said his brother had a mass the size of a grapefruit on his lungs. He couldn’t breath if he lay down. Playing baseball in 2012 was out of the question as he fought cancer.

The treatment protocol called for a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. Surgery wasn’t part of the game plan. Doctors radiated the tumor repeatedly, changing the spot to radiate with each treatment.

“They basically destroyed the tumor,” Kelly said.

The treatment worked and Korey has been cancer free for 3 years.

“It was a tough time for us,” Kelly said.

At the time, Korey’s son, Griffin, who is now 8, was 3 and then 4 as his father fought through the cancer. Kelly said his young nephew didn’t understand why his father’s hair was falling out and he didn’t have the strength to play with him.

Now, his father not only has the strength to play with him he’s back playing baseball with Uncle Kelly.

Korey has no doubt which of the two is the better player. There’s no sibling rivalry or even debate on this point.

“He is definitely,” Korey said of Kelly.

Kelly, after all, played baseball at Middle Tennessee State and Tennessee Temple.

“He was not the athlete I was,” Kelly said. “I hate to say that. He didn’t have the grit.”

The Marine Corps changed that.  “He grew a lot,” Kelly said.

One of those things is that Korey understands what being on a team is all about.

“He understands sometimes you’re the right fielder and sometimes you’re the left fielder,” Kelly said.

Wherever Korey plays is fine with him and so is understanding that sometimes other guys are just better at certain things.

Left field? Right field? Someplace else? “Korey never complains about anything,” Kelly said.

The Copelands know they are blessed. They’re playing baseball and they’re playing together.

Another blessing was finding Roy Hobbs. Kelly said they had played in another adult baseball organization but those playing fields did not compare to those in Lee County at the World Series.

“It was like going from high school to the major leagues and skipping the minor leagues,” Kelly said.

Now, they’re back in Fort Myers for another World Series. The Dirtbags didn’t do too well on the field in 2014.

“We didn’t make it too far,” Korey said.

But it’s not always about winning or losing.

“We had a great time,” said Korey, who survived Desert Storm and non-Hodgkins lymphoma and is back playing baseball again.

Losing a Roy Hobbs World Series game or two? There are far more important things.

Menu