By Brad Fauber - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Baseball players from all over the country converged on Jim Barnett Park on Thursday afternoon, some chasing a dream, others simply looking to get noticed.
With the Major League Scouting Bureau holding an open tryout at Bridgeforth Field, ballplayers had an opportunity to showcase their skills in front of real professional scouts.
The tryout was full of prospective big leaguers in their mid-20s, some just a few months removed from college, who are looking to get their foot in the door and begin the long road to the big leagues.
Others, such as recent Sherando graduate Tre Porter, simply wanted the chance to gain some recognition.
"I just wanted to be seen out here -- show people what I can do, show some of the Major League scouts what I can do, and just see where I stand in baseball," the 18-year-old Porter said. "I feel like I showed myself pretty well out here, and hopefully my name gets around somewhere and it can be something."
Porter, the 2012 Northwestern District and Region II Baseball Player of the Year, apparently did enough to impress Brad Fidler, the Scouting Bureau's full-time scout for Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Porter survived the round of cuts after the running and fielding drills, enabling him to take some batting practice, the final drill of the tryout that was reserved for only the select few who made the cut.
Porter admitted he was a little nervous when he stepped to the plate for his allotted eight swings, but settled in after popping up several pitches into the top of the batting cage to finish with a few strong drives to centerfield.
Porter, who participated as a shortstop, stood out in the first drill of the tryout -- the 60-yard dash -- as he clocked in at 6.58 seconds, the fastest time at the tryout. Fidler said the Major League average for the 60-yard dash is seven seconds flat.
"We start off running the 60, so I'm looking for guys that run under a seven-second 60," Fidler said. "It's going to show athleticism -- obviously, it's raw speed. Shortstops, second basemen, outfielders -- those guys have got to be able to run at the Major League level."
After the running drill, position players moved on to fielding. The drill began with the outfielders throwing to third base and home plate from right field. Middle infielders and third basemen then each took four groundballs -- routine, up-the-middle, backhand and slow roller -- with the throw going to first.
The fielding drill ended with each first baseman fielding several groundballs and throwing across the diamond to third base.
Fidler, who was joined by fellow full-time Major League scout Don Kohler, watched each player closely throughout the drills while giving grades on various aspects of a player's game.
Each attribute of a player is graded on a scale of 2-8, with five being Major League average.
"With the outfielders, I'm looking for arm strength. They're getting the ball lobbed to them [during the drill], so it's tough to grade them defensively, but you can look at them a little bit to see if they have some type of technique catching the ball and their release," Fidler said. "With the infielders, I'm looking for their footwork -- do they have quick feet, do they catch the ball on their heels?"
While the infielders were busy with the running and fielding drills, the pitchers and catchers spent their time in the bullpen under the watchful eye of Kohler. Each pitcher was given a specific amount of pitches to throw, but Fidler said that most of the focus is spent on the fastball.
If a pitcher demonstrates a solid fastball, then scouts will take a look at his secondary stuff, such as curveballs and other off-speed pitches. Jake Roberts, of Saint Joseph's College in Indiana, threw the hardest pitch of the afternoon with a 94 miles-per-hour fastball, and several other pitchers topped 90 MPH.
Chase Smallwood, Porter's former teammate and a rising junior at Sherando, was on the receiving end of some of those fastballs as the 15-year-old was suited up with the rest of the catchers at Thursday's tryouts.
Smallwood, the youngest participant on the field, said there was a lot to be learned from his time spent in the bullpen talking to the more-experienced players.
"It was pretty cool to be out here, it was a good learning experience," Smallwood said. "I was talking to guys that went to Old Dominion, some guys went to Saint Joseph's -- I was just talking to them the whole time, seeing what I could learn and pick up from them."
For some players, Thursday's tryout is nothing new. Strasburg Express outfielder Jackson Boyd has been to similar camps at Seton Hill University, where he will be a senior next season.
Boyd would undoubtedly jump at the first opportunity for a professional baseball career, but right now he's just happy to have the chance to step foot on a baseball diamond.
"I feel blessed to be able to play the sport of baseball," Boyd said. "There are a lot of kids that don't get the opportunities that I have been blessed with. I'm having a good time, just living it up while I can."