Thursday, May 8, 2008

And...the dream dies.

I want to call today "every boy's fantasy". And in some ways, it is. I ran into an old co-worker who waxed effusive about the opportunity to now, at a later point in his life, "live out the dream". I listened for a while, nodding my agreement as he talked for fourteen straight minutes about the boyhood fantasy that is baseball, the everyman finally getting a chance to compete for a spot with former major leaguers and college stars, on a level playing field. But in the end, I couldn't really agree. First of all, this was by no means a level playing field. Some of these guys were very, very good. The rest of us were not. The fact of the matter is that two, maybe three of the people who showed up for today's Rapids tryout were actually good enough to make the team. The rest of us were there to make them look better, and that's about it. Now, it being fifteen years or so since I played any kind of competitive baseball, I had no real illusions about my ability to make this team. But several other guys seemed to be operating under some kind of false hope. As our promo guy, Esther, said to me - it's kind of like American Idol, isn't it? And it truth, it kind of was.

If these other guys all played college or minor league ball at some time, it really made me think I should probably not have given up baseball before high school! But then, there were the real contenders. Guys who could throw a ball on a rope from centerfield to home plate. Guys who could crush a pitch, every pitch, in batting practice. There was one guy from Cuba who scooped up everything hit his way in the infield, throwing to first base, off-balance, but on target every time, once pulling off a rather difficult barehanded catch and throw with relative ease. These are the guys who are going to make the team, the guys who really belonged there. It was clear from the outset that I was not one of them. When we finished the jogging warmup, which was running the length of the warning track twice, I finished last. But Esther congratulated me - wow! She said. That was really impressive! You didn't stop for breath once! Or a smoke!

The best thing about the whole day, however, was the feeling of authenticity. The sense that this was baseball the way baseball really is. The coach is a sweet, kindly man, who seemed to be enjoying himself while he put people through their paces. He's the kindly old manager stereotype. And his assistant coach is straight out of Bull Durham or The Natural. The first time he spoke to me was after we all ran the 40-yard dash. He was holding the stopwatch, and when I sped past him, I asked him my time. He said "Friday". Then he suggested that it would have been nice if I had let him know that he should be using a calendar to measure my speed, rather than a stopwatch. (My actual time was second-worst, 6.37 seconds. Which is actually, believe it or not, faster than my time in high school, which was a 6.42, back when I was in shape. Something doesn't add up here. Maybe he was shaving milliseconds to make me feel better. Or whole seconds.) Then, throughout the rest of the drills, he continued making fun of me. Every time I was standing near him, he would mutter something like "what kind of numbskull shows up to a baseball tryout in shorts?"

And he was not wrong. I was the only person there in shorts. In fact, I was one of about three people who was not wearing a full baseball uniform. And I was also the only person there without cleats. (Which I feel prevented me from running that 4.4 second 40-yard dash I imagine for myself.) I was truly ill-equipped to try out for a baseball team. Then came the infield practice, which led this coach to muse it was a wonder my old, tattered baseball glove was not already in the hall of fame - how had they let me hang onto it for so long, belonging so obviously as it did in Cooperstown? Perhaps, he fancied later, my actual glove WAS in Cooperstown, and I had fished this one out of some neighbour's trash on my way to the park this morning. I couldn't tell if he knew who I was and was just giving me a hard time, or if he really didn't like me and wanted me to leave before he was forced to cut me from the team.

At the very beginning, the coach made it clear that because fewer people showed up for the tryouts than they had anticipated, there would not be cuts until the afternoon. The original plan had been to walk around, tapping people on the shoulder as they went through the drills, and telling them that their services would not be needed. However, this gave everyone enough time to get through all of the practice before being escorted out of the building. Along with the Rapids coaching staff, there was a coaching staff there from Quebec City in the same league, and both teams were recruiting at the same time. They further went on to say that if they thought a player was good enough to be in this league, but there wasn't room on either the Ottawa or Quebec rosters, that the coaching staffs would do whatever they could to get that player a job elsewhere in the league, which was pretty nice. One of the Quebec coaches took a little pity on me and whispered fundamentals to me as I took infield practice, so I didn't look like a total fool. However, all the advice in the world couldn't stop me from looking like a total fool.

I was the last one to take fielding practice, and I was therefore the centre of attention as I let the first one go completely through my legs. I fielded the next four cleanly, made some decent throws, and the first baseman picked a few throws out of the dirt, making me look better. Then the last ball was hit, a short dribbler just over the mound, and I charged it, looking to make one of those cool plays where the shortstop picks up the ball without hesitation and fires a strike to first to nab the runner. You know, end on a high note and so forth. But I tripped over the mound, let the ball go right by me, did a full somersault on the ground, and attempted to get to my feet right away afterward, as though I had meant to do a little flip. But I couldn't quite right myself, and I fell over again, rolling over on the ground like a big fat pile of non-ballplayer. And a non-ballplayer I am.

Then it was time for batting practice, and I just tried to make contact. Even at that, I missed three of the seven pitched balls, and only two made it out of the infield. In fact, I believe I connected with one of them about as hard as I have ever hit a baseball, and it didn't even make the warning track. I now know for absolute certain that I am unable to hit a ball out of Lynx stadium. But then, I never figured I could. I was never a power hitter. And I never figured I would make this team, because I am no longer a baseball player. In fact, it seems to me now that I never really was. But these guys are, the ones who will make it, and they are going to field a pretty impressive product in the next year. It will be worth checking out, if there is enough room to park. Also worth checking out will be the video Esther shot, in which I embarrass myself considerably. It should be up on the CHEZ website by the end of the day.

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