Twins set to hold annual open tryout
MINNEAPOLIS — Mark Hamburger didn't have high expectations when he attended the Minnesota Twins' annual open tryout at the Metrodome in 2007.
The Mounds View High School graduate was pitching at Mesabi Range Community College in northern Minnesota and playing for a summer ball team, though he didn't exactly see baseball in his long-term plans. But he attended the tryout on a whim, just to get his name out there.
Hamburger did more than get his name out there — he got a job as a professional baseball player. The Twins were impressed with what they saw from the right-hander on the first day of the tryout, when he consistently threw a 93 mph fastball. He was invited back the next day, pitched a few innings in a scrimmage and not long after was offered a contract.
"It was crazy, because I didn't even realize what was going on," Hamburger said.
He reported to the organization's rookie league team in the Gulf Coast League in Florida and started the 2008 season with Elizabethton of the Appalachian League. But Hamburger was traded to Texas in 2008 for reliever Eddie Guardado.
Once in the Rangers' system, the undrafted Hamburger worked his way up through the minors. He finally made his major league debut with Texas last season, appearing in five games in relief as a September call-up. He's currently pitching for Triple-A Round Rock this season.
Little did Hamburger know during that open tryout in 2007 that he would be a major league player just a few years later.
"That was pretty sweet. I guess it's everything you'd think about," Hamburger said of his big league debut. "I'd always seen pictures of people running out of the bullpen and it gave me the chills. The first time I did it, my whole body was just shaking. It was an unbelievable experience."
The Twins have run their open tryout since 1961, and Hamburger is hardly the first player they've signed from the tryout. Other notable signings include right-hander Charley Walters, now a columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, who signed in 1966 and pitched in six games for the Twins in 1969. Pitcher Gary Serum, an Alexandria, Minn., native was signed out of the tryout in 1975 and spent parts of the 1977-79 seasons with Minnesota.
This year's two-day tryout begins Tuesday at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Registration starts at 8:30 a.m. near Gate D, and the event will begin once everyone is registered. According to Jim Rantz, the Twins' minor league director, the tryout has drawn anywhere from 100 to 300 participants.
Those wishing to try out must be eligible to sign a professional contract, meaning either a high school graduate or a junior in college. There is no age maximum or skill requirement to try out, meaning each annual tryout draws players of all ability levels.
"We get everything from high school to legion to college to other guys that have been playing summer ball," Rantz said. "There's a big age discrepancy, but there's also a number of people that come from out of state, players from all over, whether it's the Dakotas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Canada, even as far as New York and Florida as well."
The first day of the tryout involves evaluations based on each player's position. Only a select number will get called back for the second day Wednesday, which will consist of two 9-inning scrimmages. Participants only need to bring a glove and cleats; the Twins will provide the rest of the equipment.
Of the thousands of players that have attended the tryout over the last 50 years, only a handful of them have actually signed with the Twins. Still, that doesn't mean those who are trying out can't have a little fun along the way.
"Don't hold anything back. Just enjoy it," Hamburger said. "… It also shows that if you put your mind to something that you really want to do, if you're really focused on it, you'll find a way into it. Just enjoy going to that tryout. I think everybody who goes there is going to have a fun time."
Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.