Billy Poe stretched out on the bench inside one of the dugouts at the Fauquier High School baseball complex, rested his head on an equipment bag and shut his eyes. Poe drove from his home in Alexandria to Warrenton on Monday morning to attend an open tryout camp for the Texas Rangers and now, as he waited for his turn in the batting cage, he just wanted to clear his head. So he took a short nap.
"I've been to a couple of these [tryouts], so I know what to expect--you do a lot of waiting," said Poe, 22, an outfielder who played at T.C. Williams High School and Prince George's Community College. "But I'm glad I can chill. I'm a little lightheaded because I just got over the flu."
Monday's overcast weather didn't keep the players away from the tryout, which was free and open to those ages 15 to 23. Thirty-two hopefuls showed up, anxious to catch Rangers scout Doug Harris's eye. Each player was timed in the 60-yard dash, took batting practice (pitchers had the option not to bat) and participated in infield drills. Each pitcher threw to the equivalent of three batters.
"You look for athleticism. Obviously, when you're watching someone bat, you look to see how he handles himself offensively. You have to be able to hit," said Harris, a former minor league pitcher who played in the Kansas City, Baltimore and Florida organizations before shoulder surgery ended his career. "You look for guys with a good, loose arm and with good soft hands, and you see if they can run."
Some players came with the hope that maybe they could be the next Dan Miceli or B.J. Belcher, pitchers who went from open tryouts to professional baseball. Others, such as 17-year-old Jeff Lloyd, a rising senior at Arundel (Md.) High, said they had nothing better to do.
"I could sit at home and play Nintendo, or I could come out here and play ball," said Lloyd, who drove three hours to attend the tryout. "I'd rather play ball."
For Jeff Bailey and Chris Campbell, former Fauquier High School teammates who will play baseball at Greensboro College next year, the tryout was a curiosity--neither player had attended one before. It also was a chance to compare themselves to players against whom they had never played.
"It was a new experience. I wanted to see what I've got to do if I want to come back to one of these down the road," said Bailey, a second baseman. "I definitely have to improve my arm strength."
Bailey left the tryout with more than just ideas on how to improve his game: While in the batting cage, he was hit by one of Harris's pitches.
"That's the first time I've ever hit someone," said Harris, who later hit two more batters. Several pitches after that, Bailey broke his black Louisville Slugger.
"That was my favorite bat," Bailey said. "I'll just tape it up, glue it together, and it'll be fine."
Pitcher Steve Sutherland, 23, graduated from Fauquier in 1994 and went to Virginia Commonwealth University, where he threw the javelin for the track team instead of playing baseball. A local reporter reminded Sutherland about the tryout Monday morning when Sutherland called in the statistics for his industrial league team, the Fauquier Blast.
So Sutherland skipped work and went to Fauquier. He ran his 60-yard dash, then waited around for three hours before he got his chance to pitch in front of Harris. Sutherland threw 17 pitches.
"I'm just hoping to get lucky. I've got a full-time job, but if I get lucky and have a chance to achieve my dream--I'd go for it," Sutherland said. "Most of the guys out here, if someone just acknowledges them and what they're doing, and that they're doing a good job, that's enough. For someone like me, I'm just trying to impress someone at one stage of the game."
And in many respects, that is what the open tryout is about--hope, and the interaction between a major league team and young players. Harris, in his red Texas Rangers hat and rain jacket, offered advice--and the occasional compliment--to the players throughout the tryout.
The open tryouts "give us a chance to do some grass-roots work and to get in touch with the community," Harris said. "It allows you to be hands-on with the kids. We'd like to get more kids out to these, but with the showcase teams, we don't get as many kids out. Still, you never know who will walk through the gates. That's what you hope for."
Of course, there are some success stories stemming from the open tryouts. According to Harris, Miceli walked onto the field in Baseball City, Fla., a few years ago and asked a scout, "If I throw 90 [miles per hour], will you sign me?" Miceli, who was not drafted by any major league teams, threw 90-plus and was signed. Last year, he pitched for the San Diego Padres in the World Series.
Belcher, a former pitcher for Division III Mary Washington College, was one of the five players who showed up for last year's open tryout at George Mason. He impressed Harris with his arm, was signed and was sent to the Rangers' Gulf Coast rookie league team. Belcher is now pitching for Class A Charlotte in the Florida State League.
Only time will tell if any of the players at Monday's tryout will follow Miceli or Belcher's path. "Today, I saw some kids who might have a chance; they have the tools, but they need to improve," Harris said. "Some need to improve their conditioning, others need to improve offensively."
Poe's day ended at 1:30, when Harris dismissed the outfielders, shaking each player's hand and thanking them for attending the tryout. As Poe packed up his equipment, he assessed the tryout.
"I ran a little. I took a nap. I threw up. I threw a couple balls to home. Now I'm going home," Poe said. "And I've got to do it all again on Thursday. I'm going to the Orioles tryout."
CAPTION: Jeff Bailey, Chris Campbell await their turns during an open tryout for the Texas Rangers.
CAPTION: "It was a new experience. I wanted to see what I've got to do if I want to come back to one of these . . .," Jeff Bailey said.
CAPTION: Taking a brief nap in dugout is Alexandria's Billy Poe, one of 32 hopefuls who showed up at Fauquier High School baseball complex for Rangers' tryout. Next up for Poe is a tryout today with the Orioles.