It's a long shot at the big leagues

Baseball: Unknown young players at the Orioles' open tryouts know it's a numbers game. All they're counting on is a chance.

June 13, 2000|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

The bleachers are packed. One of the two spectators, Denise Carroll of Baltimore, points out her boyfriend in a field of 50 college-aged kids trying out yesterday for the Baltimore Orioles. "I just hope they give him a chance," Denise says.

Sure they will. It's America, after all. And look at him, for God's sake. He's built like Babe Ruth - had Ruth, say, worked out. In America, Denise, everyone gets a chance. Be patient.

Her large boyfriend, Faheen Hammett, just ran the mandatory 60-yard dash in the 90-degree-plus atmosphere of Babe Ruth Field at the Cardinal Gibbons School. He might be in need of auxiliary oxygen. Strictly from a layman's standpoint, anyone completing a 60-yard dash in this climate should be awarded a six-figure deal with any ballclub.

Denise has done this drill before: come out to one of these yearly Orioles tryouts (last year Faheen tried out in Salisbury); watch her boyfriend (who plays for the Baltimore metropolitan league Charm City Tigers) run a 60-yard dash in seven seconds or a notch under; watch him throw from right field to third and to home; then watch him hit - if he makes the first cut. At these tryouts, Orioles scouts first want to see your arm strength and rank your speed, then maybe you can hit a dozen fluffy fastballs.

Faheen ran slow today, and he knows it. If only they will let me hit, he says. I got power. Just watch and wait. It's still early in the tryout and plus, if you can wait until noon, it should be 97 degrees.

"Everybody loose? Don't hurt yourself. I know a lot of you play summer ball, and I don't want you hurt," says Dean Albany, a part-time Orioles scout from Linthicum.

Albany is conducting tryouts all this week at ballparks in Maryland and Virginia. "This tryout is really for the inner-city kids," he says. "They deserve a chance."

There's a slight chance one of these kids will be asked to an "invitations only" tryout at Camden Yards in July. There's a slighter chance still that one of those kids will be signed to a rookie contract and play in Bluefield, W.Va. There's an even slighter chance one of those kids will play in the big leagues one day. And, naturally, not one of the kids out here yesterday cares about the odds.

They are all kids, by the way. Faheen is 22 and a graduate of the University of Maryland's Eastern Shore campus. He has a teaching degree. But on the baseball field, he's "the kid." Another 27-year-old "kid" showed up without a glove at yesterday's tryout, but no one stopped him. He could be found sitting by the fence, rubbing his shoulder, after throwing from right field to third base - seemingly a distance of two miles.

After ranking the players for arm strength and speed, Albany makes his first cut. Snap judgments are his forte. Fourteen players are asked to stay and hit. Albany and his guest coaches from Northern, Woodlawn and Cardinal Gibbons high schools like this kid named Forsyth from New Jersey. Ran the 60 in 6.5. Major-league speed. And some kid named Thompson has some serious power.

Al Forsyth and his dad, Al Sr., drove down from Jersey at 5 a.m. Father and son, working the Internet, had written nearly every ballclub asking for a tryout. Yesterday, they were in Baltimore on the son's day off as a camp counselor.

"I'd play for free. I don't care," Al said.

"He's my ballplayer," said his dad, once a pitcher in the old Houston Colt 45 organization.

The 14 kids stand around Albany. Their jerseys are the colors of a very sweaty rainbow, with team names such as the Storm, Vikings and Mets. The kids have names now, and Albany calls them out: King, Chambers, Odom, Williams, Thompson, Wilson, Forsyth and so on. Faheen Hammett is not among them. The kid from the Charm City Tigers, who once hit a home run so deep the victimized pitcher was cut the next day, has been cut himself.

"It was the guys who showed the best today," Albany tells the chosen few.

Faheen walks to the bleachers, where Denise agrees with everything he is going to say next: "If they see me hit, it will be a different story." Denise nods her head. She knows her guy should get another chance somehow. It would only be fair.

Kicking up dust

Albany watches the Forsyth kid hit. He bats lefthanded, then switches. Line-drive, line-drive, etc. "You naturally a righty?" he bellows at Forsyth. "Yeah, I think so," the kid says, sheepishly. The scout smiles to himself. Then he asks Forsyth to run out the next one. Everyone stops to watch this special request, this scout from the Baltimore Orioles clicking his stopwatch as the kid thumps first, kicking up dust the whole way.

Something special was just witnessed. Or it was just another fast kid no one will ever hear about again. The baseball gods will rule on this matter later.

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