Like a lot of major leaguers, Kevin Correia remembers how devoted, how totally absorbed he was by his favorite sport as a teenager. When school was out, he frequently rose before dawn to catch a 4 a.m. bus, or begged family members for a ride on their way to work, just so he could meet up with friends and spend 12 hours or more immersed in making himself better.
Before long, his talent was so obvious, sponsors signed him up, showering him with free equipment and betting he might someday turned pro.
He never did.
“I got really good,” Correia said. “But you’ve got to be on a whole other level to be a professional surfer.”
Yes, surfing — the sport of Pacific kings, and also a few generations of Southern California Correias. The Twins righthander returns home to face the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night, just a mile or two from the beaches he once roamed with a surfboard, waiting for the most wicked waves. Baseball became his profession, but surfing remains a passion.
“There’s nothing like being out on the water,” said Correia, who grew up about 10 miles inland. “It’s just you and the ocean, and it’s different every time you’re out there. You’re not thinking about anything but the wave and getting a good ride. Everything else, all your stress, gets left behind.”
No place like the beach
Correia, 33, has lived with more stress than usual lately, enduring an up-and-down start to the season that has left him with a 1-5 record and a career-high 6.80 ERA. But on a road trip that will take him to the two ballparks he knows better than any others — San Diego’s Petco Park and San Francisco’s AT&T Park, which were his home stadiums for the first eight years of his major league career — Correia hopes that being home will help him on the mound.
He wouldn’t mind grabbing a board and paddling out to the breakers, either.
“I wish I could. But I can tell when I go out after not having done it for a while — you paddle for 10 minutes and your arms are like noodles,” he said. “It’s really a good workout for a pitcher — arms and shoulders and legs. I’ve never had an arm injury during my career, I’ve always been durable, and I think surfing has a lot to do with it.”
Correia first climbed on a board when he was 12, and he was hooked immediately. Within a couple of years, he said, he was surfing virtually every day during the summer, despite the difficulty of getting to Pacific Beach, or Mission Beach, or La Jolla — the latter his favorite, he said, “because the waves get really big there” — without a car of his own.
“We’d be catching buses to the beach before it even got light out,” he said. “I nearly drowned a few times, but I loved being out there.”
By the time he could drive, he got a summer job at South Coast Windansea, a well-known surf shop near the Crystal Pier on Pacific Beach, and entered a handful of amateur riding contests. And that’s when he realized his athleticism translated better to baseball, his other favorite sport, than surfing.
“When I went off to college,” first to Grossmont College and later to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Correia said, “I had to put baseball ahead of surfing.”
Not a bad decision, considering Correia has earned more than $20 million in the big leagues. He is 70-83 with a 4.56 ERA in 12 major league seasons, including 9-13 with a 4.18 ERA last year with the Twins, who gave him a two-year, $10 million contract that expires in November. Baseball has taken him away from the beach, however. Tuesday’s start is his first in his hometown since August 2012.
An extended family
He will have plenty of fans in the stands for the game. Correia comes from a prominent, and enormous, San Diego family of Portuguese descent; his grandparents, with whom he lived after his parents divorced when he was 15, had 10 children, more than two dozen grandkids and plenty of great- and even great-great-grandchildren now, too.
“I’ve got aunts and uncles and cousins, more than I can count,” Correia said.
One cousin, Steven Correia, is an artist internationally known for his work with glass sculpture — so famous that Correia Middle School, about five blocks from nearby Ocean Beach, was named for him. Kevin Correia owns a few pieces of his cousin’s work, though the two have met only at the family’s huge reunions.
“Everyone knows the Correias in Point Loma, because there’s so many of us,” he said, “and because my grandfather [Frank] owned a big tuna-fishing boat.” Dozens of relatives earned a living working for the family, going to sea for weeks at time and “jumping in the nets, throwing out dolphins, sharks, all kinds of stuff in there. I wouldn’t want to do it,” Correia said. “But it paid really well, so they all mostly did that instead of going to college.”
Correia, a gifted pitcher and shortstop when he was young, went another way. But he never lost his love of the sea, a passion that he can’t wait to pass on to his own three sons: Dane (5), Emmett (3) and Benjamin (1).
“We’re getting them used to the water, and we’ll get Dane on a boogie board in a year or two,” Correia said. “It’s hard, though, it takes some time to learn how to do it. You can’t learn it in a day. It takes at least a year before you can go out there and really ride.”
And he doesn’t have that kind of time at the moment. Baseball and surfing don’t really mix, though he has ridden waves with a few former Padres teammates such as Ryan Klesko, Brad Ausmus and Trevor Hoffman.
“I’m way better than them, though,” Correia said. “I still claim to be the best surfer in baseball. But I’m getting old. There’s probably some young guy out there who can really ride.”