Wistful Memories…

Posted in Personal/Family on August 26, 2010 by tccsp

I was moving the sprinkler this morning and realized I should probably capture the material evidence of my pitching efforts over the last year, since the whole thing feels like a hazy dream.
These black patches of wornaway grass, a few baseballs that my children now play with, and some dents in my garage are the last traces of my efforts to retrieve my youthful pitching prowess.

Worn away grass from my cleats

Baseballs turned to toys

Baseball dents in my garage

No e-mail of response from Jim Rantz, in case any of you were wondering. Ah well.

My tryout for the minor leagues… and waiting on Jim Rantz

Posted in Scouting/Minor Leagues on July 1, 2010 by tccsp

Note: This is (I believe) my final blog post. Let me just say that since my last post, there is (at least) one more lefthanded pitcher playing minor league baseball. Take a look at this picture:

A lefthanded minor league pitcher



Whoever that is, I actually have no idea if he was signed sometime over the last two months. But I’m sure there are quite a few lefthanded pitchers that have been signed in the last couple of months. But … [[Spoiler Alert]] … I am not one of them.

But alas, here is my recounting of the tale of the last couple of months.

One of my favorite baseball films is Eight Men Out–about the 1919 Chicago “Black” Sox–a team whose best players took money to throw the World Series. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson was on that team (one of the greatest pure hitters of all time) and was accused of gambling and banned from baseball for life.

While I was walking to the Metrodome last Monday morning for the Twins Tryout Camp, I was reminded of the concluding scene from Eight Men Out. Years after the “Black” Sox episode, there’s a cut to an amateur baseball game. Everyone is talking about the left fielder–saying they’ve never seen anyone like him. The viewer knows it is Jackson, playing under an assumed name, and playing for the love of the game.

Here I was, twelve years out of baseball–voluntarily, of course–and I now humbly walk back into the limelight to offer my crafty lefthanded services to the hometown team. Like Shoeless Joe, I am playing for the love of the game. Perhaps they will have never seen a forkball like mine.

As I stood in line behind dozens of tall, muscular, 20-year old pitchers, the delusional fog started to fade. When I reached the front of the line and started to fill out the in-take form, I started to smile.

This will be fun, I think, but I am not who they are looking for.

The form asks: what year would I be graduating from “high school” or “college”. I write: “Graduated college in 2000″. I consider scribbling that I have a master’s degree–smarts should count for something, shouldn’t they?–but alas, I leave it blank.

They hand me a number to pin onto my back: I am number 161.

To make a long story short, I left the Twins tryout satisfied. This was a real tryout–speed guns and all. Jim Rantz, the Twins director of minor league operations, was there. Tony Oliva was there. Numerous scouts were there: I even spotted the scout that had scouted me in high school.

Along with about ninety other pitchers, I was there for four hours. I talked with lots of high school and college-aged guys with live arms and little life experience. I even had a long conversation with a scout.

But I did not–how should I put this–make a splash. Nay even a ripple.

Before I get into the details, some of you may be wondering what happened at the Omaha tryout–and how did I end up at the Twins tryout instead.

Well, about a week after my last post (back in mid-May), I had actually all but decided that I would not go to any further tryouts. After the Saints tryout, the dream all but died. I stopped working out. Stopped throwing.

However, Friday, June 11th rolled around.

Lucy and I and the kids had no plans for the weekend. At around 10am, I was talking with my friend Marc Johnson–who remains my biggest fan–and I got the itch to just give it a shot. My wife encouraged me to do it, and Marc (eventually) agreed to take the road trip to Omaha with me for the tryout. I packed up my stuff, got things in order–and Marc took responsibility for finding a cheap hotel. By 2:30pm that afternoon I was on the road to pick up Marc at his house. We would pull into Omaha before 10pm.

While on the way to his house, Marc called my cell.

“I’ve found a couple of different hotels pretty close to the field,” he said, “It’ll be about $70 or $80 for the one night.”

“Sounds good,” I said.

“By the way,” he said, “I’m sure you know that the Twins are having a tryout at the dome on June 21st?”

“They are?” I said.

“Yeah.”

“Well, they hadn’t posted that last I checked,” I sighed, “Why would we go to Omaha? Let’s just stay here and go golfing.”

What followed was a glorious man-date. Both of our wives had geared up for us to be gone for two days… and so now we had the whole afternoon and evening to ourselves. We golfed nine holes (I shot a 42 to Marc’s 46), played a lot of ping pong, and then watched the Twins game that night at Joe Sensor’s Sports Bar.

Glorious.

Just Glorious.

So I spent the next ten days not throwing or working out, and thinking how silly it would be to go to the Twins tryout. But Sunday evening, June 20th, I decided I just had to go. If I didn’t go now, I never would. My arm was still in good enough shape to not tear anything.

So I went to the tryout.

Like the Saints tryout, they split the pitchers and position players.

They took the pitchers in the order that they registered–about ninety of us.

Since I was one of the last ones there, I was probably eighth from the last to pitch. The scout told us he was primarily looking for velocity–that they were looking for guys who could throw 90 mph–so we should rear back and try to throw as hard as we could.

Some did–a number of guys there were throwing 85-86, and a few were in the 88-89 range. Many did not–there were quite a few guys there throwing in the high 60s and low 70s (so most of you reading this could go next year and probably not be the worst pitcher there).

When my turn finally came, I reared back and tried to throw as hard as I could and…. I threw strikes–lots of them.

But I did not throw hard.

I had thrown in the low 80s in October, topping out at 84. I had high hopes of increasing that velocity.

I felt like I was throwing bullets, Francisco Liriano-style.

But I topped out at 80.

After my final pitch, the scout who was watching and gunning me (the name on his jersey was “Wilson”), called me over.

He said my fastballs were 78-80, and offspeed stuff was 66-69. He noted that I was 32 and said, “I can tell you used to throw harder. As you get older, it feels like you’re throwing harder, but the ball just goes slower.”

At the end of the tryouts, the scout read out about 12 numbers of the guys who would return the next day for a live game. As I suspected, there was no 161.

I congratulated my warm-up mate, Elvin, who was there with his fiancee. He threw 88, was very wild, but was 22 and built like Adonis. He got invited back. I’ll be checking the papers for him down the road.

As the others all filed out, I walked back down to the field where Wilson was packing up his stuff.

I asked him if I could ask him a question–it was the question I hoped I’d be able to ask.

I told him that back in 1995 I had been invited to a select, invite only workout at the Metrodome. I hadn’t been drafted out of high school, so I know I wasn’t a top prospect. But did he know if the Twins keep records of these scouting reports?

With a twinkle of understanding in his eyes, he told me that he thinks they do. And that I should e-mail Jim Rantz. I told him I would.

As I left the dome and walked back to my car, I acknowledged that without Jim Rantz’s personal e-mail, it is unlikely that I would get a response.

But today, I finally got around to looking for a way to contact the Twins front office.

Jim Rantz is listed on the twinsbaseball.com site, and his e-mail is a form e-mail that goes to “twins@twinsbaseball.com” with “Jim Rantz” in the subject line. This is what I wrote.

Mr. Rantz,

My name is Dan Olson. I am a local blogger (rookieat32.wordpress.com) and attended the Twins Open tryout on Monday, June 21. I am now quite clearly over the hill–but in the summer of 1995, I was invited to an invite-only scouting workout at the Metrodome. What I am wondering is if I could receive a copy of any scouting reports that were taken on me from that workout (or any other scouting reports from around that time). I was a lefthanded pitcher and went to Minnehaha Academy (Minneapolis) in high school.

At the tryout last week, I spoke with a scout whose last name was Wilson–and he told me he thought Jim Rantz’s office would have a record of this, which is why I’m contacting this e-mail address. Please let me know if there is a process to look at this information (if I need to come in, etc.).

Sincerely,

Dan Olson

So as I retire my baseball gear, and any hopes of being a “rookie at 32″, I will wait just a little while longer to find out whether–at 17–I really had any chance of ever being a rookie to begin with. If I find anything out, I will certainly post it here.

Thanks to all of you who kept up with my ten-month pursuit. In hindsight, this has been a healthy and humbling experience for me. I have learned a lot more about pitching mechanics, but also how incredibly refined professional pitchers are. I was a very good high school pitcher, and a quite good D-III college pitcher. But the distance between that level of pitching and minor league baseball–much less major league baseball–is significant. I will no longer think grandiose thoughts about what might have been. I will merely thank the Lord for the other gifts he has given me, and that he called me to a much different and an extraordinarily satisfying life as a husband, a father, an elder in my church, an administrator at an inner city school, and a left fielder on my softball team with a very strong throwing arm.

In fact, just this evening I was playing left field at my softball game and I charged on a line drive, made a shoestring catch, pulled up and threw a (let’s be generous) 84-mph bullet to second base to double up the runner to end the inning.

Perhaps to a few who haven’t watched much real baseball (or softball for that matter), they had never seen anyone with an arm quite like mine.

Me and Shoeless Joe–and a few hundred thousand other twenty and thirty year olds–playing for the love of the game.

Rookie at 32 indeed.

One more month of dreaming…

Posted in Scouting/Minor Leagues on May 9, 2010 by tccsp

After numerous discusssions with my wife and family and friends, I’ve decided that I’m going to keep my arm in shape long enough to go to a June minor league tryout. I just checked the MLB Scouting Bureau’s web site, and they’ve finally posted the tryout dates.

I am tentatively planning on driving down to Omaha, Nebraska and going to the June 12 tryout date.

For the next month, I plan on pitching to high school teams once/week, and then throwing in my back yard whenever possible. I will also stay in shape by jogging and continuing my weight workouts.

Upon reflection, what I’ve realized that becoming an excellent pitcher requires the crucible of intense competition. In one month, I simple don’t have the time to invest in this.

So I will go to the tryout hoping to throw a baseball really really fast–and I will also go as something of a baseball anthropologist, as a participant-observer. I hope to catalogue my experience on this blog.

And who knows–they just might like what I got.

Update: No call coming

Posted in Scouting/Minor Leagues, Training/Workouts on April 30, 2010 by tccsp

Based on a story I saw in the Star Tribune, it does appear that any callbacks that happened occurred yesterday, the day of the tryout. Apparently a couple of pitchers were called back, but neither were offered a spot on the team. A catcher named Ryan Richardson was apparently the only guy offered a spot on the team, and the Saints have already added him to their roster list.

I’m not surprised, of course–and only slightly disappointed. I am intensely curious, however. Curious about where I fell in the pitching coach’s evaluation: was I in his top 5 to call back? Top 10? Was I just too erratic? Too old? Too slow? Would he think I should pitch for a men’s team for the next five weeks and then go to the June minor league tryouts?

I actually just left a message for the same promotions guy that I called a few weeks ago about my cartooning idea, and asked if he thought the pitching coach would be willing to briefly chat over the phone. Anyway, I’m guessing he won’t be interested in chatting with me (if he chats with me, he’ll have to chat with every single guy, he’d say)–but I figured it’s worth a shot.

Thanks for reading–and all of your support. I realize I am a vicarious instrument for many of you–so I’m trying to hold up my end of the bargain.

The tryout… and waiting …

Posted in Scouting/Minor Leagues on April 30, 2010 by tccsp

Grant Dawson came and shot some video of this morning’s tryout–so I’ll post that whenever he sends it over… but here’s a brief summary of my morning:
7:35am – Check weather.com and saintsbaseball.com, to see if things will be rained out. Then check google directions to Midway Stadium-only 15 minutes away from my house. Convenient.
7:45am – Leave for Midway Stadium
8:02am – Arrive at Midway Stadium, my first visual is seeing 25-30 baseball players filing into the field. Apparently registration opened a bit early.
8:05am – Register at registration table. They asked for very basic information, name, address, phone numbers, my position (pitcher), birthday (2/10/78), and college attended (Wheaton College (IL), last year played (2002) and baseball accomplishments. In the baseball accomplishments area, I just wrote that I led my college team in wins and strikeouts. My wife tells me I should have included high school accolades. She’s probably right–since this is the form the pitching coach was looking at during each pitchers’ session. Oh well.
8:15am – Start stretching and throwing–as well as having brief and awkward conversations with other baseball players. It is clearly a diverse group, both in terms of age and experience–I talked to a couple of 20-year olds who play for community colleges; a 28-year old from Chicago who drove up last night for the tryout; quite a few 23-28 year olds from the metro area who play town ball and are giving it one last hurrah. There was one 20-something guy with a U of MN pullover on who I overheard saying he “was clocked at 91 mph”–that’s pretty fast. I didn’t meet anyone who was older than 29–but someone told me they had talked to a guy who was “over 30″.
9:05am – The tryout begins with the Saints coach telling pitchers and catchers to head to the bullpen, and position players to stay with him. I go with the pitchers and catchers–about 30 pitchers and 10 catchers total.
9:10am – The Saints pitching coach walks us through how things are going to go. It will be just him doing the evaluating–no speed gun, no huddled group of coaches. They’re looking for a diamond in the rough–he says. He will watch and take notes while pitchers throw side bullpen sessions in pairs (two pitchers throwing to two catchers). Pitchers should be ready when it’s their turn. After pitchers throw, they can go home. If the team is interested in seeing them throw more, they will call.
9:15am – He announces the first six names. I’m not one of them. I run to the bathroom.
9:20am – I get back, seeing the second group of two finishing their session. The coach announces names 7 and 8–one of them is “Dan Olson”. Gotta hurry and get warm. A catcher eyes me out–and we go start warming up. Arm feels fine.
9:25am – I’m up. My first few pitches are pretty erratic, including one that cleared the fence that ran alongside the bullpen. “That’s gotta look pretty bad,” I think. I calm down and am mostly around the zone for the rest of the bullpen session. My curve and forkball are pretty sharp, but my fastball leaked outside–something that happens when I rush. Oh well.
9:30am – The coach asks me to throw from the stretch. I do for a bit. Then, he asks me what I do to hold runners on. I tell him I hold with the leg lift and looks, and throw in the occasional slide step. He asks me to show him. (Note, this is to a pitching tryout what parallel parking is to the drivers test–it separates the men from the boys. You see, left-handed pitchers have an advantage when a runner is on first base, since they are actually facing the runner and can see if he’s going to steal or not. But this also requires a lefty to be especially crafty with knowing when and how to hold the runner close, and to have a variety of “looks” and pick-off moves to give the runner to throw him off. When I lift my leg, I can either throw over to first base, or throw home. A “slide step” is when you just don’t lift your leg, and instead gently lift your foot and move quickly toward the plate, which decreases the amount of time for the ball to reach the plate. This gives the catcher a greater chance of throwing out a runner attempting a steal.) With all these factors and options to think about, it is especially important that the lefthanded pitcher be able to continue to throw strikes. So the coach was testing my mettle. I think I at least passed the test, though not every pitch home was a strike.
9:38am – My bullpen session ends. The pitching coach tells the rest of the guys to wait, and runs over to talk to a coach on the other side of the field. Best case scenario here is that he’s talking about me (maybe he said something like, “George, you know how we were talking about how we need one more solid lefty? I think I just saw him throw–and he’s 32!”.)
More likely, he was running over to ask where he wanted to eat lunch–but you never know.
9:45am – After saying goodbye to a few of the other guys I met, and debriefing a bit with Grant, I hopped in my car and headed home. It was all over so quickly.

I’m guessing they only intend to call between one and three pitchers to come back. Of the first 10 pitchers, I do know I was the only lefthander.

Anyway, I’ve spent the rest of the day watching my kids, debriefing things with my wife, friends, and family, and–judging from how drained I felt–realizing I’ve invested more hope in this tryout than I thought. Now I’m wondering if there’s an outside chance that I might receive a call tomorrow (or Monday, I guess)–and, if not, reflecting on whether I should keep working for the June tryouts or not.

If they do call–you’ll all be the first to know.

Tryout Day

Posted in Scouting/Minor Leagues on April 29, 2010 by tccsp

Unless it gets rained out, I will try out with the Saint Paul Saints in eleven hours.

I’ve spent the last few days fighting an attitude of resignation. I’ve been rejuvenated by this challenge I’ve undertaken, but now that it is so close, it has seemed so impossible.

My wife gave me a little pep talk this evening, and I went for a jog and worked out. I’m hoping to waltz into Midway Stadium tomorrow and give it my best shot. Though I don’t have a copy of the song, I’m planning on whistling “Eye of the Tiger” to myself during the drive to the stadium.

If you’re reading this anytime between 9am and 2pm on Thursday, April 29th–I’d appreciate a prayer for a good tryout, regardless of the outcome. Or if you’re not comfortable praying, whistle a few refrains of “Eye of the Tiger” and think of me.

Countdown #1: Five Days to go…

Posted in Personal/Family, Pitching Mechanics, Training/Workouts on April 24, 2010 by tccsp

In five days, I will attend a tryout with the St. Paul Saints. On Thursday, April 29th, I will arrive at Midway Stadium to register around 8am–with the tryout beginning at 9am. I have little idea what to expect. I will bring my glove, my cleats, and will wear a pair of old baseball pants. I won’t bring a bat, since I can’t hit and the Saints’ league uses the DH rule (phew). My friend Grant Dawson has agreed to come, and will capture some of the 32-year old action on video.
Contrary to what I expected, the last week in Birmingham has been a real boon to my baseball playing. Not only did my family and I take a inspiring pilgrimmage to Rickwood Field in Birmingham (the oldest field in the country), but I exercised quite a bit and had two promising bullpen sessions with a 14-year old Birmingham catcher.
In the two sessions, I had decent command of my pitches (I throw a fastball, a curve, and forkball, and am working on a slider), but what was most encouraging was my velocity. We had no gun, but things just felt fast. And the catcher–who has caught for 3-4 minor league pitchers over the last 8 months–told me I throw as hard as a couple of them. He also said my fastball tails “like a righty’s cutter”, and my curve and fork are “pretty nasty”. We both agreed that my command has something to be desired, but my fastball location is improving. While I may be putting too much stock in the evaluation of a 14-year old, I do feel more confident going into the home stretch.
A few of you may have noticed that I changed text on the right [see “The Challenge”] from “The Major League Scouting Bureau’s tryout in June” to “the St. Paul Saints open tryout on April 29, 2010″.
This is not a complete copout–only a mild dose of reality.
I will keep working out for the June tryout if one of three things happen at the Saints tryout: 1) I make the team or 2) they tell me I’m good enough to make the team, but a) need a little work or b) they aren’t looking for another lefty pitcher (which is a possibility if you look at their published roster) or 3) I feel I still could have a shot at the June tryouts, even if the Saints tryout doesn’t go well.
If none of these three things happen, I will return to my softball team, coaching youth baseball, and maybe, just maybe, will try and pitch a few games for a men’s team, just to make some good use out of having my arm back in shape again.
By the way–in the next few days, I hope to post some funny video of my son Charlie. He seems to naturally throw righthanded, but he has watched his southpaw daddy throw so much that he is doggedly committed to throwing with lefthanded mechanics. He’s certainly mechanically confused!

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