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The time was 8:38 AM. I climbed into my Chevy Tahoe with only one question on my mind: What am I doing? I have declined the opportunity for extra sleep in order to try out for a baseball team that I have no shot of making. This sounds like a novel idea.
Welcome to the world of Internet blogging.
I arrived at Tigertown in my home city of Lakeland a few minutes late and was told to head out to Al Kaline field. After making my way to the registration site, I immediately saw hundreds of hopeful players, decked out in all forms of baseball gear. Naturally, I felt out of place in my sleeveless shirt and athletic shorts, but this would become a recurring theme for the day. I made my way to a table with registration cards, where I filled out as much information as I could. At least I knew my name and address. In all reality, it would have been a little easier to fill out the card had the last time I played on a baseball team not been in 6th grade. Oh well. You had better believe that I wasn’t going to write that down.
I submitted my card with the rest of the second basemen, as I felt that was the safest position to aim for. I play third base on my softball team, but I didn’t think I could consistently make the throw from third base on a larger field. I was finally assigned #417, and my initial thought was that I was the 417th person to submit a card. Thankfully this was not the case. At this point, I waited with all of the other applicants outside the field until 10 AM, when we were ushered onto the field.
Once on the field, one of the instructors ordered participants to line up according to numbers. My number was 417, so I lined up at the tail end of the 400 line with the rest of the second basemen. The first exercise involved the potential catchers throwing to second base after a simulated pitch. Next, pitchers and catchers were then moved to another part of the complex and outfielders prepared to work out first. While these workouts were taking place, my group stretched and loosened our arms. I basically ran around aimlessly for some time and then found someone to throw with in order to loosen up. Unfortunately, I spent half of the time dodging balls from the individual throwing beside me. He fell under my category of, “Don’t quit your day job…unless its baseball.” I found myself labeling a good amount of 30-something men with this tag throughout the day. While I was dodging baseballs, each outfielder was given several balls to field, which they then had to throw to third base. I’m glad I didn’t try out for right field.
After outfield tryouts, the infielders were lined up by number for their groundballs. Like I said earlier, I signed up for second so I wouldn’t have to make as far of a throw. They lined us up between second and third base anyway. Isn’t that ironic, Alanis? Anyway, there was an order to the process, as each fielder was hit one or two regular grounders, then they were asked to backhand the second set, followed by a ball to the left side, and finally a slow roller. Nerves were ever-present among participants, as routine grounders were bobbled with much regularity. As I moved forward to take my place in the dirt, I was held back so Gene Roof could rake the dirt a little bit, which was much appreciated. I was then able to take my place, and Kevin Bradshaw smacked four or five sharp grounders my way. Surprisingly, I fielded all of them cleanly, despite the mediocre throws that would follow (even though all of them still made the base). A friend described my efforts, claiming that “While Kyle could use a stronger throwing arm, his defense was solid and aggressive.” That works for me, and my friends are too kind. I was proud of my performance up to this point – not bad for an inexperienced blogger.
The next step in the procedure was batting practice. Instructors Gene Roof and Glenn Ezell set up the pitching machine. I was really hoping that the pitches would be thrown by the instructors, but comparatively speaking, they were still pretty slow (I would say 50-55 MPH). Whatever groups were not assigned to hitting at the time had to shag balls in the outfield. This basically meant that a couple hundred people were standing in the outfield all at once. Most participants brought their own bats and helmets, but I was more than happy to use the equipment that was provided. I was all smiles as I grabbed a helmet with an old English “D” and began to swing a Lousiville Slugger Pro Stock bat.
While I was grabbing my gear, Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander stopped by for a little bit to watch some of the batters, chatting with instructors and checking his cell phone from time to time. As I was taking a few practice swings, contestant #414 had an impressive outing a couple of spots ahead of me. Regardless of his efforts, he seemed to be a little frustrated with himself. Sensing this, one of the instructors called him over and showed the participant his hand – various numbers were written on his palm, with one of them being 414. Within a few minutes, I found myself lining up in my left-handed batting position. I figured that was one thing I had going for me at least.
I stepped into the box as Glenn Ezell loaded pitches into the machine one by one. Not really knowing what to expect, I missed my first pitch horribly. Ezell looks at me and proclaims, “Like I told some of these other guys, if you can’t see the ball, you can’t hit it.” Oh, I saw it alright, as it flew right past me. I chipped a few pitches off after this, followed by a grounder to the second base side. My most impressive hit was a shot down the first base line. It was a good feeling, as I had to turn on it to get ahold of it. The stinging in my hands immediately following wasn’t as great of a feeling. But honestly, I wasn’t going to buy batting gloves to use for just one day of my life. And I wasn’t about to try on a pair of Moises Alou’s batting gloves (non baseball fans, Google “Alou batting gloves…”).
The rest of the tryout was spent shagging balls in the outfield, so naturally, I had to go back out there once again. The whole procedure was enjoyable, but I was tired, hungry, and ready to leave. All hopeful players were called into the infield around 2:30 PM for the standard, “Thanks for trying, your stats will be posted online” speech. My Tigers tryout was officially over at this point.
Many individuals made the journey to Lakeland for a shot at their dream. All I can say is that I am fortunate enough to live here. It was not uncommon to talk to people who had driven hours and taken time off from school or work. One individual I talked with described his passion for the game and how he flew from Arkansas for one day to try out. I asked him how long he had been training, and he claimed that he hadn’t played in six months. Its sad, but I think the ties connecting his passion to his brain had been severed.
I sincerely felt bad for the majority of the participants. I admire those who possess an intense passion for the game – it’s the same passion that fuels my desire to write about the sport. But I can honestly say that most of these individuals earnestly thought they could make the squad. As for me, I just wanted to write a story and obtain some bragging rights. Years down the road, I will tell my grandkids, “You know, there was once a time when grandpa tried out for the Detroit Tigers.” By that time, my memory will be shot - the details will be exaggerated and blown way out of proportion. But they don’t have to know.
As for the rest of my spring break, I have a real job interview to attend to in less than eight hours. Without a doubt, I’m telling my friends and family that its my second job interview of the week.
A huge thanks to Roger Dewitt for taking some great pictures and sharing them with me!
|Date Created: Sun Jul 31 22:56:12 2013|