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

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.

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2 Responses to “My tryout for the minor leagues… and waiting on Jim Rantz”

  1. Dan!!! I enjoyed reading your story so much!! I had no idea. Congratulations on following your dream! You give all of us fellow 32-year- olds a little hope :-).
    Karin

  2. great read dan. fun reading this over the months. i’m sure it’s been even better for you, what a cool experience. hope you have a good summer, and maybe see you soon.

    mike

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