MINNEAPOLIS — The annual open tryout put on by the Minnesota Twins usually draws anywhere from 100 to 300 prospective baseball players. This year’s tryout, however, yielded just around 50 players.
Still, despite the drop in numbers in 2012, Twins minor league director Jim Rantz and his staff saw players from all walks of life and from all over the country make the trip to Minnesota for the two-day event.
This year, the winner for longest distance traveled was Hibrain Cordova, a 21-year-old outfielder from Puerto Rico, who endured nine hours of flying before arriving Minneapolis just for a shot (and a very small one, at that) that he might impress the Twins enough to sign a contract.
“I just come here to try to sign or do my best here,” Cordova said. “I think I did alright. Not real good. I did alright.”
Cordova put on the most impressive display in batting practice Tuesday, hitting the only home run of the group. But one home run doesn’t equal a contract. In fact, Cordova didn’t get a hit in five plate appearances during Wednesday’s modified scrimmage.
Perhaps he felt the pressure as Rantz, former Twins outfielder Tony Oliva and others kept a close eye on each participant.
Cordova traveled the farthest to get to the Metrodome, but others came from several states away. That included Jermaine Jefferson, a 25-year-old infielder who drove from Memphis for his chance to impress the Twins. Jackson, currently playing for a summer league in Tennessee, found out about the tryout from a friend and his aunt.
“It was my first time ever trying out for a pro team,” said Jackson, a San Francisco native and Giants fan. “It was a good experience. I’ve been playing baseball all my life, since I was five. I just came out here and enjoyed the experience.”
And then there was 38-year-old Don Anderson from Fridley, Minn., the oldest player trying out this week. Anderson has been coming to the open tryout every year since 1993. He doesn’t do it because he necessarily thinks he has a chance to make the team.
“Just for the fun of it. Just try out and see what happens,” said Anderson, a shortstop who has a birth defect in his left hand that forces him to catch and throw with the same hand, much like former major league pitcher Jim Abbott. “It’s pretty easy. I just put the glove underneath my hand and throw with my same hand I catch the ball with.”
Anderson’s baseball experience prior to the tryouts was limited, as he played just one year in high school. He ran long distances in track and cross country. But that hasn’t stopped him from coming back year after year after year.
Since Anderson has trying out for nearly two decades, he’s gotten to know the Twins staff pretty well by now.
“We’re on a first-name basis with him now,” Rantz said. “He just does it because he’s a fan and he likes to be here. He hit a couple balls out of the cage (Tuesday). I see him at TwinsFest, so he’s just a fan and loves the game. Nothing wrong with that, because we’re trying to create a fan base here, too.”
Most of the players who came out to the Metrodome this week were college age or older. Rantz said there were just a few 18-year-olds that made the cut Tuesday and were called back Wednesday. None of the 25 or so players who advanced to Wednesday’s scrimmage were signed yet — Rantz said the organization has to wait and see what happens with the players the Twins drafted before it can fill the remaining rosters of the rookie league teams.
In the past, four players that have signed with the Twins out of the tryout camp have made it to the major leagues. In all, around 20 players in the 50-year history signed and played in the Twins’ minor league organization.
That was the hope of many who showed up Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s why they’ll fly from Puerto Rico or drive from Memphis, just for one shot at their dream.
“It’s not surprising. Sometimes we get them from New York and California as well,” Rantz said. “… It goes in cycles. Some years we don’t sign anybody. It takes care of the phone calls, the letter writers that want an opportunity to play. We say, ‘Here it is. Unfortunately, you might not be good enough to sign.’ They want the opportunity to come in and play and show what they can do.”