Light-hitting writer takes his shot at majors
MINNEAPOLIS — I don't know what it was that initially compelled me to try out for the Minnesota Twins.
Maybe it was the sheer novelty of it, a baseball writer crossing the foul line and stepping on to the field instead of watching from the press box. The journalist in me figured it would make for an interesting story.
But as I ran around the outfield and stepped into the batter's box Tuesday at the Metrodome, I realized why I was there, and it was probably the same reason a lot of the other 50 or so players showed up: We all wanted to have the feeling of playing in a major league park — well, at least a former major league park — or have the fleeting thought that perhaps we're good enough to be big league players.
I set my expectations low for this tryout, which the Twins have held annually since 1961. I knew I wasn't making the team; only a few players in the 51-year history of it have. Heck, I didn't expect to make the first cut and get invited back for Wednesday's scrimmage.
My lack of skills didn't deter me, though, from putting on the cleats and dusting off my glove. I was just hoping I wasn't the least athletic person there, which I wasn't — although it was close. I gave up baseball in middle school, stuck with basketball through high school and was a band geek as a trumpet in the University of Wisconsin marching band.
Needless to say, that resume doesn't translate well to the baseball diamond.
The first event Tuesday was the 60-yard dash. Players were paired up by position, running side by side in left field. As soon as former Twin Tony Oliva lowered his hat, runners took off, sprinting full speed from the left field line toward two orange cones in center field.
As I approached the line for my turn, I sized up the guy who was running next to me. He was definitely younger than me — I'm an old 24 — and looked faster than me, too.
"Are you fast?" I asked him.
"I'm pretty fast," he replied. "How about you?"
"Eh, not so much," I answered.
Twins minor league field coordinator Joel Lepel informed us that the average time in the 60-yard dash was 6.9 seconds.
I clocked in at 7.4. The guy I was running with put down a 6.5.
So speed wasn't my thing. But there are plenty of big leaguers who aren't the fleetest of foot and still have solid careers. I might have a chance against David Ortiz or Prince Fielder, at least.
Next up was a feat of arm strength for the outfielders — my position for the day. One of my crowning athletic achievements was throwing a runner out at home plate from shallow left field during a softball game in college. Making it even more memorable was that I slipped in the muddy outfield and still delivered a laser — how else to describe such perfection? — from my rear end.
It wasn't that easy Tuesday. I was the second-last outfielder to throw, and as I watched a few of the others sailing throws on a line to home plate — or even airmailing third base — I knew I was doomed.
I told myself I didn't want to miss the grounders hit to center before having the chance to throw. I must have gotten into my own head because, sure enough, I had to go back on the first ball hit to me, pick it up and then throw to third. None of my three throws made it there on the fly. I was happy just to get them in the general vicinity.
Throwing to home plate without a cutoff man was even harder. One of my throws hit the batting practice netting that had been pushed off to the side, close to the third base line. The other two took several hops to get to the catcher.
After making throws from the outfield, we had downtime before the day's final event: batting practice. This offered a chance for some back-and-forth with the other Twins hopefuls. One kid came from Puerto Rico. He traveled the farthest of any player, but others came from Memphis, Iowa and Duluth, Minn. Clearly, this tryout was important to them if they'd travel such distances for the longest of long shots.
When it was time for BP, outfielders went last, so I stood in the outfield to shag flies, something I've watched the Twins and other teams do countless times since I've started covering them. It's part of the everyday routine for major league baseball teams, and here I was, standing in the same outfield once roamed by the likes of Kirby Puckett and Torii Hunter.
After the catchers and infielders hit, it was our turn. In addition to my storied youth baseball career, my preparation for this part of the tryout included a Monday spent at the batting cages. I also made sure to buy some batting gloves, which I also did the day before the tryout.
Batting practice went by fast. Each player got only five swings, which is a small sample size but still enough for the Twins executives in attendance to weed out those who wouldn't be invited back for the second day. Of my five swings, I'm proud to say I at least made contact on all five. One was a foul tip that I think hit the catcher in his mask. The other four were grounders.
No home runs. Nothing even close. In fact, only one player out of the 50 or so hit one over the fence.
I would have been happy just to hit one out of the infield.
Maybe my problem was that I used Twins pitcher Anthony Swarzak's bat. The right-hander is 0-for-3 at the plate in his major league career.
So that was it. The tryout was over. After about a 10-minute wait, Twins minor league director Jim Rantz thanked us all for coming before reading off the numbers of the players who would be invited back Wednesday. It was reminiscent of my days trying out for travel basketball, showing up to the gym the next day to see if my name was posted.
Sure enough, outfielder No. 306 was skipped over when the numbers were read. I was officially cut — not one of the 25 or so who made it to Day 2. Next up for them: The chance to get a real contract, of which about 20 have been offered since 1961.
Obviously, the news was exactly what I expected. Tuesday's tryout was fun, and it gave me an appreciation for how hard it is to play at the professional level, let alone impress a scout.
I did neither. It's clear I don't have a future playing baseball. I think I'll stick to writing about it instead.
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