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Clay Condrey
Hometown hero took long road to big stage

By Mike Scarr /

He didn't make an appearance in the World Series, but to the people of Navasota, Texas, Clay Condrey is an ace.

The Phillies long reliever was mostly a spectator in the 2008 postseason. To those who know him, though, and even to those who don't in the small East Texas town, Condrey couldn't be a bigger celebrity.

"We [were] talking about it every night, watching the games and hoping he would get in," said longtime family friend Pierce Key.

Condrey's Major League career isn't one to gain much attention. The right-hander has played parts of five seasons in the bigs, two with the Padres and the past three with the Phillies. But like many good athletes from a small town, Condrey played everything and was often the best player on the field.

Condrey excelled at football and basketball at Navasota High School, but baseball was always his first love, and he worked tirelessly to realize his dream.

Condrey's story closely shadows that of teammate Chris Coste, a backup catcher who spent 10 years in the Minors before getting his first big league callup. Condrey beat his friend to the Majors by a few years, debuting with the Padres in 2002. Coste, on the other hand, was 33 when he first drank from the big league cup.

Of course, Condrey's route wasn't much less circuitous.

Age: 32

Beaumont, Texas

School: McNeese State University (La.)

MLB Teams:

Video | Player bio
Condrey did not attract the attention of scouts either in high school or at Angelina Community College in Lufkin, Texas, so he headed for McNeese State in Louisiana, where he didn't have much luck, either. From there, he spent the next couple of years staying in shape and working at Gritex Electric in Navasota.

Condrey finally got his break at an open tryout held by the Padres. As it turns out, the right-hander was signed by a young Padres assistant by the name of Theo Epstein, who's since become the two-time World Series-winning general manager of the Red Sox.

Key did not coach Condrey, but he taught him at Navasota High in vocational agriculture class, and his son, Cody, grew up playing ball with the talented pitcher.

"He had a very lively arm and he worked at it hard," Key said of Condrey, who is diabetic. "He was always a good-sized kid and was always a good athlete. I always felt that he sure could play."

With the Padres, Condrey appeared in nine games in 2002 and another nine in '03 before being traded to the Phillies near the end of Spring Training 2004. Two years later, he made it back to the Majors with the Phillies, logging 21 games in 2006 and 39 in '07.

Both Condrey and Coste completed their first full Major League campaigns in 2008 -- a topic that neither would discuss much throughout the season for fear of jinxing their good fortune.

Though Condrey's father, Lee, passed away a few years ago, he did get a chance to see his son play in the Minors. According to Key, Lee Condrey was a beloved history teacher at Navasota High, and the town has adopted Clay as one of its own.

"It has been good for the whole community," Key said. "It just makes you feel good. The whole community is proud of him. Even those who didn't know him. You talk about the World Series. It is just a big deal."

Mike Scarr is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.