Keeping the dream alive at Saints tryout camp

  • Article by: BRIAN STENSAAS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 29, 2010 - 11:35 PM

St. Paul's mayor showed up, but the real stars of the Saints' open tryout were those just trying to play some baseball one more year.

More than 70 players of all shapes, sizes and baseball skill showed up -- two of them a full hour before registration began at 8 a.m. — for the St. Paul Saints' annual open tryout Thursday morning.

Even St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman stopped by to show his stuff.

"Forgot my cleats," Coleman, dressed in a suit and tie, lamented after playing catch with the mayor of Nagasaki, Japan, and before stepping into the batting cage to take a few hacks off of Saints pitching coach Jason Verdugo.

Later, Coleman assessed his morning "tryout" at Midway Stadium.

"I'm still waiting for a call," he said. "I got a couple out there. Maybe a little more practice. I didn't embarrass myself."

Others? Well, it was a day mixed with potential and improbable.

• With a backwards flex of his right wrist, Jon Mueller shows off where a tendon used to be. It's now woven underneath another scar several inches above that mark, the result of Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in 2007.

Mueller, the 25-year-old former Gophers pitcher from La Crosse Wis., was on quite the path until elbow problems derailed his career. A 16th-round draft choice by the Chicago Cubs in 2005, he ascended briefly to Class AAA Iowa before the pain began.

Out of organized baseball, Mueller is looking for any chance he can get. He impressed Thursday, one of a handful of pitchers Saints manager George Tsamis invited back for an afternoon workout. Longshots have turned out well in the past; Charlie Ruud came from a tryout camp in 2005 to become the Saints' all-time leader in pitching victories.

"I feel better now even than I did before surgery," Mueller said. "After I got out of rehab -- the worst 12 months of my life -- I've just never gotten the opportunity to go out there and throw."

With such a strong turnout, Mueller found it taxing to sit around in the cold and wait his turn to shine.

"Kind of long day out here," he said. "Might have to send [my] girlfriend for some lunch."

• As an 8-year-old, Aaron Lussier caught a foul ball at Midway Stadium while at his first Saints game. Now 22, the lumbering first baseman sought a little more magic after a six-hour drive from the tiny town of Redby, Minn., located on the Red Lake Indian Reservation.

"Drove down just to try out for the Saints," he said. "I'm all about baseball."

Lussier made a few defensive plays at first but missed a few more. At the plate, he struggled to get the ball out of the infield and was not among those asked to stay.

His dream is not dashed, however.

"All I've been doing since high school is practicing," he said. "All it takes is one person to like you and give you a shot. Anything can happen."

• The strong winds Thursday likely gave local golfers fits. For Nick D'Alessandro, however, the brisk gale blowing out to left field was ideal.

He hit a pair of towering home runs during the batting practice portion of the tryout, likely easing the pain in his backside and legs following the 20-hour drive from New Jersey earlier this week.

"It was wicked," he said. "I'm still not right from that ride."

D'Alessandro's brother, Joe, already is on the Saints roster. Nick, a 23-year-old catcher, hoped Thursday's show of power and accuracy behind the plate as a catcher was enough to join him.

If not, he's off to yet another tryout in Ohio.

• The open tryout routine was old hat for David Pekarek. The 34-year-old Minneapolis resident has shown up three years in a row, and he is so familiar with it he addressed a Saints staffer by name during registration.

Though Pekarek is a competitive kickboxer by trade -- his next bout is May 7 in Eau Claire, Wis. -- and also wrestled before entering the Army, baseball has been a passion dating to his high school days in Forest Lake.

He again didn't make the cut Thursday, which wasn't surprising.

"The mayor had more power out there," Pekarek said.

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