Timing is everything. That’s the way St. Paul Saints manager George Tsamis and hitting coach Lamarr Rogers explained Sunday morning’s open tryout at Midway Stadium.
The statement was applicable on many levels for the nearly 40 young, middle-aged and old men hopeful for a second, or 10th, chance to play the game they love.
Sixty-year-old New Mexico resident Paul Risso, a 1973 draft selection, thought it might be his second chance. As did 26-year-old Nick Hoffman of Andover. Even a pitcher from Denver who traveled to St. Paul, to Texas (for another tryout), back to St. Paul within four days thought his time was now.
That statement had a different significance for me, a former college baseball player at Biola University in Los Angeles.
It’s been six years since I last played competitive baseball. Two years since this infielder (second base) turned sports reporter has hit against live pitching. The gaps in time, however, didn’t stop me from thinking I had a shot at one of 23 Saints opening day roster spots.
“What happens when I make it?” I asked my supervisor, Paul Klauda. He laughed, I believed.
Six ground balls, several turns of a double play and 15-20 hacks against a pitching machine were the limited opportunities I got to show my worth. The ground balls were fielded cleanly. My throws were on point. One hiccup came on a double-play attempt.
My time in the batting cage was OK. I’d like to think I got an extra look since Rogers let me see a few extra pitches. Maybe my line drives to the opposite field impressed (I’m righthanded hitting and throwing).
Bad weather had already cut about 40 percent of the original interested crowd. Snow postponed the first two tryout dates. It didn’t stop us from playing catch on a white outfield Friday morning, though.
“Who plays in snow?” someone yelled. “Minnesotans do,” another responded. I smiled and remembered the 50 games we would have already played (all outside) by this time in Southern California.
I’ll probably have to settle for those memories. Tsamis informed the group no one would be staying for the Saints’ Sunday workout. If you get a call over the next few days, that means you’ll be at the top of an emergency list. That’s where the organization’s all-time winningest pitcher once waited.
“Rusty” is how Rogers described my game after I traded my glove for a recorder. My timing was off, he said, adding that timing is everything in professional baseball. Whether it’s in the batter’s box, fielding a ground ball, or waiting for a spot to open at the next level.
Shakopee High School alum Chase Hentges, a 2008 14th-round draft pick, understands this. He was stuck at the Kansas City Royals’ Rookie level before being released last year and was among Sunday’s hopefuls.
A stint of P90X, a couple of trips to the batting cage and several nights training with my wife, Megan, weren’t enough to shake my six years of rust and timing issues.
Chances are I’ll still be covering baseball instead of playing it when the Saints begin their season May 16. At least I got my second chance. Everyone deserves one. There’s always room to improve … and next year. Maybe by then my arm will stop hurting.