Scouting baseball players is learned from experience, not books. A baseball scout's job is to make an objective judgment using subjective means. For that reason, baseball scouts view themselves as special.

" . . . Baseball men point out that they have to judge young talents under more various circumstances and project it further into the future," Kevin Kerrane wrote in his book, "Dollar Sign On The Muscle -- The World of Baseball Scouting."

One of those circumstances is the open tryout camp.

At 9 a.m. yesterday, about 60 young men between the ages of 16 and 22 gathered at St. Albans School so their tools, makeup and performance could be subjectively rated and their professional baseball hopes objectively projected by scouts from the Baltimore Orioles.

From pitchers they were looking for either 80 mph deliveries or a gimmick. Mechanics and the speed gun told the tale. A few had the heat. One had the gimmick -- a 48 mph knuckleball.

From others they were looking for The Five Talents: speed, arm strength, fielding, hitting, hitting for power. Barely any with the full package here. But at least a few will be worth keeping an eye on.

And that was really the purpose of the tryout. That and "good PR," for a team struggling to stay out of the American League East Division cellar, said one scout, who asked not to be identified.

"Look," said another, "we always try to keep things positive, but you can look in the paper. What is it now, 19 1/2 games out? Hey, the door's wide open."

Not that open, really.

"There are only so many spots in any given year," said Don Snyder, an associate scout. "Right now most of the rosters are full. If one of the older guys really impressed, we might give him a call if something opened up. But we don't sign kids up to {end up in} AA or AAA. We sign 'em up to go to the majors."

So, what are the chances of a player being offered a contract at one of these camps?

"Infinitesimal," said Jim Gilbert, the Orioles' territorial supervisor for the District, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina. "Now if a kid throws 90 mph or rates a 5 {on the 2-8 scale used to rate skills based on a major league level on which Dave Winfield rates between 7 and 8}, I've got a contract for him in the car."

Matt Lepnew knows the story. A May graduate of Georgetown, he started attracting the attention of scouts as a junior when he batted .357 with 10 home runs. He attended a Pittsburgh Pirates tryout camp in the area, but didn't do enough to have any doubts about returning for his senior year.

"I figured that all I would need was just a good season this year to get drafted," said Lepnew, a native of Manassas, who attended Osbourn High School.

It didn't quite work out that way. Lepnew hit less than .200 for the first half of the season and ended up below .300 overall.

"No excuses, I just didn't perform well," Lepnew said. "And I didn't do well when the scouts were there."

Teammate Glenn Bruckner, meanwhile, had a tremendous year. He set Georgetown's single-season and career home run record and was drafted by the Texas Rangers. He is now playing for their Class A affiliate in Port Charlotte, Fla. Lepnew admitted to being envious, but not too envious.

"I got a call the other day from Steve Iannini {who made third-team all-America his junior and senior seasons and holds virtually every Gerorgetown offensive record not broken by Bruckner}," Lepnew said. "He wanted to know if there was an opening in the house I had been living in. He'd been released from A ball and he said he was going back to school. Shows you pro ball's pretty damn competitive."

Nevertheless, Lepnew was out there yesterday, running the 60-yard dash in 6.7 seconds, taking grounders at first and getting his licks at the plate.

"Don Snyder told me about this about four weeks ago," Lepnew said. "I used to play ball with his daughter's fiance -- connections, you know. So I've been working out since then, geting ready for this. I've got my degree {he double-majored in math and computer science}, but I'm just not ready to retire just yet. I came here to get signed."

According to the scouts, Lepnew has a better chance with IBM than with the Orioles.

Dave Baad knows the story. An honorable mention All-Met as a senior catcher for St. Albans, he played four years at Rollins College as a walk-on. He'd "pay them $100 a month if they'd put me on the bus to Bluefield {W. Va., home of the Orioles' Rookie League team}." However, he has an application pending for a position in the internship program of the baseball commissioner's office.

"It's just as competitive as trying to make it as a player," said Baad, 21. "They only have two spots and they get lots of applications. But this is what I want to do. I want to get into the baseball side of management, scouting. I love going out and watching kids play and evaluating talent."

Now, that's something the scouts could relate to.

"People ask me all the time how I got started scouting," said Gilbert, 57, who worked 25 years for the Baltimore Police Department and has spent 14 years with the Orioles. "You don't just start. It's something you do all your life."