With the aid of a few coaches, some videos, and lots of hours in the batting cage, I managed to develop a swing. I wasn't a huge kid, but I learned to make good contact with the ball. I was never going to be fantastic, but at least I wasn't relegated to bunting or striking out.
In the 8th grade I went out for the JV baseball team at school. Most of the kids knew me, but the coaches hadn't seen me at all because I hadn't bothered trying out in 7th grade. I didn't really look the part of a baseball player. I had hardly anything in the way of equipment. I had a glove and cleats, but everything else had always been provided by the team, uniforms included. So, I had to borrow a bat from a friend. I wore jeans instead of baseball pants. I wore an suicidal tendencies t-shirt, not a jersey like the other kids. I definitely looked out of place.
The coaches didn't bother asking me what position I played... they just put me in right field. Right field is generally where they put the worst kid on the team. The idea is that he can't screw up too much out there since he won't have too many balls hit his way. But, as it turned out there were quite a few left-handed batters in tryouts that year, so I saw plenty of balls. I was able to showcase my speed and my arm. On one very shallow blooper, I threw out a runner at first base. Ok, so he was fat and slow... but still, I threw a guy out at first from the outfield. At the plate I went 1 for 3, with a strikeout, a deep fly to center, and a double. I made the first round of cuts and came back the next day.
The coach asked me to play center field on the second day of tryouts, presumably because he figured I covered more ground than the other outfielders. I saw this as a big thing... moving me out of the dreaded "right field". This gave me some added confidence that showed at the plate. I went 2 for 3, with a strikeout, a double, a base hit, and also walked once. I stole second on the walk. I was ecstatic. All the hard work over the winter had paid off. I was going to make the team for sure. How could I not? I had hit 2 doubles, 1 single, and a stolen base. And threw out a guy at first from the outfield!
Sure enough, I did make the second round of cuts, which was normally the last one. But I learned that there was going to be a third cut. They had to get rid of two more guys. Of those remaining, there were only 5 guys that weren't on the team from last year. 2 of those guys were considered to be a shoe in. One because he was a phenomenal pitcher, and the other because he is the little brother of the team's star player... but a very good ball player in his own right. So in actuality, there were really only 3 possible people that could get cut. Me: a relative unknown that was playing great, but certainly didn't look or act the part. Jon Vann: a football player that didn't seem to have much baseball skill. Lex Sheriff: A 7th grade up-and-coming athlete. He played basketball, football, baseball, and was on the wrestling team. I knew Lex and had played with him in the Pony-Colt leagues. He was good. He had timing, coordination, and good athletic ability. He was also a good guy that I considered a friend. He was having a horrible tryout though. He was hitless, striking out almost every at bat. He was trying out for pitcher, and had been getting rocked. After talking to him, he seemed pretty dejected. I think there was a lot of pressure on him and he was a bundle of nerves. One of us three would make it, the other two were out.
On the third day of tryouts, I had another hit and another stolen base. I played left field this time...my third position in as many days. What was really strange was that the coach asked me to play 3rd base. I told him I had no experience at 3rd. He seemed disappointed that I would turn down the offer... and then he said, "Okay go play left then." I thought it was weird that suddenly he would ask me to play the infield. Out in left, I had a few fly balls and grounders. Then Lex came to the plate. He was something like 0 for 12 going into this at-bat. The pitcher, a guy we both knew, slowed his delivery down a bit. I knew he was just giving Lex a chance to finally get a hit. Lex swung hard and got under the first pitch...fouled back. Then on the next one he lifted it. It was definitely going over the third baseman's head, but it was spinning blooper and really shallow. I charged hard but I wasn't going to get to it...unless maybe I dove headfirst...and even then it was unlikely. I checked up, as I think anyone else would do, took it off of one hop and tossed to second. Lex finally had a hit. I smiled for him.
About 30 minutes later, as we came into the dugout, the coach was all fired up about something. He was sort of yelling at everyone and no one in particular as he paced back and forth. Something about slacking... not running hard... and then as I got within earshot, I caught his quick gaze and it came, "If I EVER see anyone let a fly ball drop, I will run you until you all until you throw up!" Ba dump bump. I just sort of smiled incredulously and shook my head. Unbelievable.
As young as I was, I could still recognize this cowardly passive-aggressive bullshit. It was the typical politics. The coach was in a tough spot. He had this nobody kid who was playing great... and he had this big name kid that was playing awful. It was then that I realized what was going on. The third cut was all just a dog and pony show. He needed to find a reason and I gave him exactly what he needed on that blooper. I think if I had dove for it and cracked my face open if it wouldn't have made any difference. That's why he tried to get me to play third. He had the guy that was supposed to be an all star, and he had the raggedy kid that didn't even have his own bat. The yelling shit in the dugout was all for my benefit and the anyone else within earshot. We all knew there was no way Vann was gonna make it ,he had an awful tryout too. He only brought that poor guy back the third day so it wouldn't be too obvious when he cut me.
I saw Lex in the parking lot and congratulated him. I meant it too. He also knew what was up. "Sorry Greg, you played great. It's not really fair." He was a good guy. "That's ok...thanks." I knew that it meant more to him than it did to me, so I wasn't really that pissed. Plus, I knew that he probably would play better all season than I would. My tryout was kind of a fluke... to be perfectly honest. But it was the concept of bringing us all out the next day for this whole charade... and yelling at a kid that hit .500. Lame.
The cut list came out the next day. Sure enough. I think it was that moment that I stopped giving a shit about sports.