Corey Phelan’s goal from an early age was to play baseball at the highest level, and he always made plans to make it happen.
It all started to fall into place in the summer of 2020 after she graduated from Harborfields High School. The Philadelphia Phillies offered the 6-2 left-handed pitcher a contract from Greenlawn, and he chose not to commit to attending Flagler College in Florida to sign his first professional contract.
Last April, when Phelan showed up at the Phillies’ minor league spring training complex in Clearwater, Fla., he began to feel discomfort in his chest. He called his father, Chris Phelan, who advised him to speak with the Phillies coaching staff. An ECG examination revealed nothing abnormal but an appointment was made for the next day with a cardiologist. While preparing for this appointment on April 14, Phelan collapsed in the shower. He called 911 and was rushed to a local hospital. A scan of his chest revealed a nine-inch mass pressing on his heart.
Phelan died Wednesday at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia surrounded by his family after a six-month battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, his family said. He was 20 years old.
“He loved being with his friends and family and he loved playing baseball,” his father said. “He was the one who was ill, but he couldn’t bear the idea that we were suffering knowing how much he had suffered in recent months. He hid it from us to spare us. . . . He was always thinking of those he loved.
Corey Phelan appeared in five games in 2021 with Florida Complex League affiliate Philadelphia, pitching 9 2/3 innings and allowing one run.
“He was a kid who did everything well; on the ball field and everything else,” said Jim Clark, the director of the Titans Baseball program that Phelan played for every summer. “He was the real article. That’s why it cuts so deep.”
The Phillies released a statement Thursday that read, “The Phillies family is extremely saddened by the tragic passing of Corey Phelan. Corey’s positive presence and selflessness influenced everyone around him. While he was incredibly passionate about the game of baseball, his love for his family and unwavering faith superseded everything else.
Phelan has combined talent with a tireless work ethic and has flourished after developing physically over the past few years at Harborfields, despite having his senior season canceled by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The transformation happened quite quickly as he grew physically, putting size and strength behind the solid form he developed,” said Tom Downey, a Phillies scout based in Long Island and also involved in Titans baseball. “In his second year and at the beginning of his first year, he could have been [throwing] 78 or 80 [mph] but within maybe 10 months he was 88 or 89 years old. . . . And he was very competitive, not afraid to go after the hitters.
Downey recounts a phone call he received on a Saturday night six or seven years ago from a number he didn’t recognize. It was Corey Phelan calling for his dad to be removed from coaching his Titans youth team.
“He said to me, ‘He knocked me out in the sixth inning of a no-hitter’ and he has to go,'” Downey said. “I hadn’t realized he was calling from the back seat of their car until I heard Chris in the background say, ‘Maybe you could have stayed if you hadn’t accompanied those three hitters. ”
“It was Corey: so competitive,” Chris Phelan said.
Corey Phelan handled his devastating diagnosis with grace, drawing on his fervent Christian beliefs. “God got me,” Downey recalled saying.
“He was such a loyal person,” Chris Phelan said. “He would tell me ‘God has me’ or ‘This is God’s plan and it’s a beautiful plan.’ ”
Chris Phelan said the Phillies organization provided tremendous support to his son and his family during the six-month battle. The team was in constant contact with and alongside the Phelans, helped get Corey into Children’s Hospital where he underwent experimental treatment, and ushered him into the clubhouse to visit the team before home games when he could. Senior Advisor Larry Bowa was in the hospital for Corey Phelan’s final hour.
Phelan is survived by his parents, Chris and Christie, his brothers Connor, 21, and Colin, 18, and his sister Caleigh, 16.
Visiting hours at Nolan’s Funeral Home in Northport are scheduled for Monday from 2-4 p.m. and Tuesday from 2-4 p.m. and 6-9 p.m. A funeral mass is scheduled for Wednesday at 10 a.m. at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Centerport.