Unique discovery: Dinosaur hunter turned pitcher

Maybe the day will come when John Krog- stad is breaking off curveballs in the majors and observers will wonder where the Twins dug him up.

And the tables will have turned.

Krogstad, 22, is the one used to unearthing things, but he is putting his career as a paleontologist on hold to pursue his major league dream. Despite no high school or college playing experience, he recently stood out among a group of 92 players at the Twins' tryout camp in Fort Myers, Fla. He signed for a $500 bonus and has begun his pro career with the Twins' rookie league team in the Gulf Coast League.

"The dinosaur bones are always going to be there," said Krogstad, who was born in Crookston, Minn., and later moved with his family to Custer, S.D.

His high school in Custer didn't have a baseball team. He never went to college. His baseball experience in recent years came from games in a men's league.

"Most of the guys were over 40," Krogstad said.

His main endeavor is paleontology. He's been involved in it since he was 14.

"I love it," he said. "I'm my own boss and have control over everything."

He has searched for fossils in South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. His big find, a few years ago, was the skull of a nodosaur that currently belongs to the Black Hills Institute in Hill City, S.D. They've named the skull "Junior," as in John Krogstad Jr.

Now if he could only discover good control, how to hold runners on base and how to climb up the Twins' minor league system.

At the urging of friends, he decided to give pro baseball a try this year and joined the American Baseball Institute in Clearwater, Fla. The first day, he asked about trying out with the Twins, and it just so happened that the Twins' tryout camp was coming up in March.

"He looked like he had strong shoulders," said Joel Lepel, the Twins minor league field coordinator who held the tryouts. "And he looked like he had arm strength, and he can spin a curveball.

"But at 22 years is he going to be able to find the control for it? That remains to be seen."

The Twins have signed players out of previous tryout camps. Outfielder Justin Arneson, who signed out of Fergus Falls Community College, was in the organization from 2002-06 but never got above Class A. Righthander Dan Leatherman was with the organization in 2006 and 2007 and reached Class AAA with the Washington Nationals last year. Righthander Mark Hamburger, who was born in St. Paul, signed in 2007 and was traded to the Texas Rangers for Eddie Guardado a year later and has pitched at Class AAA Round Rock this season.

Krogstad, with a fastball clocked at 88-90 miles an hour, has thrown 2 2/3 scoreless innings over two appearances. He has a long way to go.

"It's definitely a little more competition than back home," he said. "Facing these guys, I can see that they can hit. It's been fun. I'm looking forward to getting used to it, getting better and climbing up the ladder."

He can always return to digging for dinosaurs. Right now, he's chasing the dream.

"It's amazing," he said. "I don't want to be anywhere else."

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