One last shot at a dream trying out for the Crushers
By Matt Lofgren
May 6, 2013
AVON - I woke up Sunday morning a little bit earlier than usual with the anticipation of playing organized baseball for the first time in six years and the chance of doing something great.
Getting out of bed was no issue as I loosened up and stretched out for the Lake Erie Crushers' tryout day. After pounding a Gatorade and munching down a couple power bars, I drove up to All Pro Freight Stadium with some pump up music blaring and my nerves a bit on edge.
I knew the odds were against me, but I had to give it my all.
As I left my car and walked through the stadium gates, I quickly realized just how many guys were chasing the same dream as I. Thirty five or so ball players ranging as far as Texas were on hand to get their shot at the pro level, and myself... the 2003 minor league all-star from city league.
Immediately, manager Jeff Isom gave us a big speech on what we would be doing and his expectations for players. After a quick stretching and warmup session, we all split up into groups of pitchers, catchers, infielders and outfielders, to get started on sprints and drills.
I was assigned to be pitcher 14 for the day.
With 13 guys ahead of me ranging from recent high school grads to college grads, at 5-foot-8, I had to be one of the more intimidating prospects.
After about forty minutes or so, coach finally called my number to get loose. I informed him of my main pitch, the knuckleball, and was assigned a catcher to get ready with.
I felt like Dennis Quaid in "The Rookie" getting one more shot at the big time, minus being old, out of my prime and possessing any pitching abilities what so ever.
I loosened up some more for about ten minutes and then made my way over to the bullpen mound. As I walked over, I could feel the anticipation building as I kicked some dirt off the mound and stared down into the catcher's mitt.
With the sun nearly blinding me, I took aim and let roar about eight knuckleballs and four fastballs. After my session, I headed back to the dugout to wait for the results with the other prospects.
Finally, the coaches came towards the dugout filled with all 35 players and silence fell over the stadium. It was like walking into the locker room and waiting to see that little red ticket.
Isom called out some numbers of the catchers and then came time to find out my fate.
"One-eleven, 113," Isom yelled out, and then a long pause came on.
"Now onto the position players."
And just like that, my hopes and dreams of being a Lake Erie Crusher came to an end and I was nothing more than a reporter again.
But of the original 35 players that had showed up for the tryout, 21 remained for the afternoon scrimmage against the real Crushers.
It takes a lot to put into perspective what had just happened.
While I was on hand fully knowing I wouldn't make the team, these 35 other guys where there to keep playing the game they love.
"I'm not looking for players as good as what I already have, I need to see better," Isom kept preaching.
While waiting around between bullpen sessions, I got a chance to meet Matt Helm, who drove in from Indiana, and Travis Smith, a pitcher from North Carolina who had worked his way back from Tommy Johns surgery.
In speaking to both of them, it was easy to see how much hard work and dedication went into what they do. Helm had just wrapped up his college career less than a week ago and was looking to keep playing while Smith just wanted to get back to doing what he loved.
Neither player made it onto the team, in fact of the 21 that performed in the scrimmage, five were told their information would be held onto in case of an injury or a major league team comes calling.
After the long day out in the sun was finished, I talked to Isom to see how my scouting report looked.
"I was working with position players for most of the time when you were throwing your bullpen, but I heard there was a nasty knuckleball in there," Isom said.
My official scouting report reads a "wicked" knuckleball that dances at 48 MPH and a fastball that tops out at 62 MPH.
"We talk about our pitchers and they have to be either above bat speed or below bat speed and you know what, there is a future for you if you work on the command of that 48 MPH knuckleball," Isom said.
Your move, Indians.