(According to OurSportsCentral.com, the Minnesota Twins are holding a big league try-out on Saturday, June 7th. As Fort Myers is only three hours away from Tampa, I am definitely going. And in anticipation of my pursuit of becoming a Twin, a Red Wing, a Rock Cat, a Miracle, or a Snapper, this week I am presenting a three-part story about the last time I tried to seize my big league dream.)
(If you missed Part 1, go back and read it here.)
In all modesty, I assume it is a baseball scout’s sworn duty to evaluate the big league mettle of every warm-blooded male. No scout dare be the one to pass on a great talent due to reluctance, even if it meant putting me out in the field with a group of ex-high school all-stars, former college ballplayers, and travel team members, most of whom probably had the date circled on their calendar months in advance. Then, of course, there was me, who had only learned about the tryout weeks prior and whose training consisted of beating the dust off my glove and throwing accurately to my roommate in a game of catch.
So after deciding the outfield was probably my best place to hang out until the pitching tryout, I joined the rest of the prospects in right field for the first test of our wannabe big league skills. Our task was to catch a flyball and throw to home plate and then field a second ball and make a throw to third base. Sounded easy enough, I thought.
When it was finally my turn in the outfield I had no problem catching the first ball or fielding the second. Nor did I have any problem “crowhopping” and getting into position to throw. My attempts to get the ball to its intended target, however, weren’t exactly big league “frozen ropes”. They were more like soaring rainbows, taking to higher altitude for the sake of possible distance. Former Brave outfielders Brian Jordan or Ron Gant I was not. But then again, I was a pitcher. Throws to third and home are much easier when you are on the mound.
The next task towards making the Braves was running. And unfortunately not just the ability to run. The Braves representatives were looking for that sudden acceleration, that cat-like speed, that sheer athleticism that made for a quality prospect. Similar to the scene in the movie Major League when Willie Mays Hayes runs in his pajamas, we had to sprint a distance in the outfield equivalent to the distance from first to third base.
Having watched the often-replayed scene of former Brave Sid Bream sliding into home against the Pittsburgh Pirates, I assumed the Braves’ standard for running ability wasn’t among the highest. Truth be told, I thought of myself as quite the runner in my military days, and hoped that experience would carry me to prospect status.
Not so fast (pun intended). Apparently, the Braves had raised their standards since the days of Sid Bream and were looking for real runners, or at least athletes who could complete a 120 foot dash to a professional standard. Proving no one will ever confuse me with former Braves Rafael Furcal and Otis Nixon, my running failed to wow those who held the key to my potential big league career. Once again, however, I was a pitcher, not a speedy base stealer.
Finally, as we prospective major leaguers completed our drills, those with hopes of taking the mound were herded away from the group. This was our time to shine. Time for the golden arms of tomorrow, the future Greg Madduxes, Tom Glavines, and John Smoltzes to prove their potential. In all honesty, however, I would have settled with being the next Greg McMichael, but it was not the time to be humble.
A short while and several pitching hopefuls later, it was my turn to shine. As I walked towards the mound the lead scout told me the procedure. I would get three warm-ups, three fastballs, a breaking ball, a change-up, and a wildcard whatever-I-wanted pitch. And if I didn’t break at least 80 miles per hour with a fastball, then the scouts weren’t interested.
Admittedly, I was nervous. Eighty miles per hour? I knew I could drive it, but could I throw it? So what if I hadn’t pitched in over five years. Wasn’t it a scout’s job to find that diamond in the rough?
Having not pitched in quite a while, I used the first three pitches to find the strike zone. Nothing fancy, just strikes. On the fourth pitch, my first “official” fastball, I wound up, reared back, and fired. A strike on the inside corner. Surprised I didn’t hear the loud pop of the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt, I eagerly awaited my pitch speed.
“Seventy-two,” yelled the scout’s assistant from behind the backstop. Not bad, but not good enough.
Pitch two was in the exact same location as the first. “Seventy-three,” the assistant scout yelled. Still under 80.
I had one more chance to make the cut. I quickly recalled every pitching lesson I had ever heard. Bend the back leg, drive off the rubber, follow through. I even thought about trying to pump myself up a la Al Hrbosky or Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn, but thought better of it. I don’t know much about scouting, but I doubt they look approvingly towards a gimmick, even if it got me that much needed seven miles an hour more on my fastball.
Gimmickless, I toed the rubber for a third time. A simple rock back, wind-up, and pitch ...
(Read Part 3 here.)