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GRASS ROOTS BASEBALL
Roger Williams
August 29, 1960
Major league tryout camps are a summer fixture. Here's a personal look at one of them
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August 29, 1960

Grass Roots Baseball

Major league tryout camps are a summer fixture. Here's a personal look at one of them

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After a few warmup tosses, we got down to work. Larry Woodall, a Red Sox scout and former Tiger catcher, called for a third baseman and shortstop to work with the outfielders, who were going to practice throwing to the bases. I volunteered. As shortstop, I was to cut off poor throws at the third baseman's command.

The first throw came hard and straight, but it was too low, so I cut it off. There was a loud whomp, and I staggered backward. That started a bone bruise I can still feel. From then on I took the high hard ones with an exaggerated give and concentrated on smothering the low skippers. Happily, there were enough really bad throws to make me look good by comparison. Some barely made the infield dirt, others sailed 15 feet over the third baseman's head. I finished with palm aching but confidence intact.

Infield practice was almost without incident. The first grounder died conveniently at my feet, and I stabbed the second blindly on the short hop. I found my throws uniformly weak, so I started aiming at an imaginary spot several feet above the first baseman's head. This gave them the appearance of low set shots. On our final play the second baseman fielded a grounder and threw to me for the forceout at second. I relayed to first for a double play that might have caught Ford Frick by half a step.

"O.K.," yelled Woodall, "we'll start a game. No. 1s in the field, No. 2s at bat." That put us up first. Our first two hitters tripled, and I eagerly grabbed a couple of bats to loosen up. The bats felt like railroad ties. I rooted around for something lighter and for a moment contemplated using a fungo. When I finally stepped up I was choking the bat almost to the label. I swung and missed on the first pitch and found my right foot (I bat lefty) way out in the bucket. So I planted the right foot nearly in front of the plate, took three balls and finally grounded out to shortstop.

A lefty was pitching when I came to bat again. As he walked out to the mound, a grandstand critic yelled, "Hey, this kid's only in the Babe Ruth League." He did look terrible: no speed, no stuff, nothing. I struck out on three swings. After the second strike, the catcher said helpfully: "Boy, you missed that one by a lot."

In the field my main activity was talking it up in the infield. "What's the pitcher's name?" I asked the third baseman. "Beats me," he said. "Hey, Pitch, what's your first name? Gene? O.K., Gene baby. C'mon, Gene boy. No batter in there, baby." I also took a few throw-ins from the outfield. The last one came in at ankle level so that there was no chance to give with it. Wham! The bruise was rebruised; my hand hung helplessly like a fleshy hook. When a new shortstop took over after three innings I retired happily to the sidelines.

A yellow sponge

Next morning I dampened a yellow kitchen sponge and stuck it in my glove. The ball hit the glove with a strange squish, but my tender palm didn't mind the noise.

Jumping Joe Dugan, the old American League third baseman, instructed the infielders on making the double play. "Boys," said Dugan, "I feel lousy this morning. My stomach's killing me. Now there are two kinds of throws on the double play—the toss, when you're close up, and the overhand throw when you're farther away. That's how we do it in the big leagues. Now you second basemen—remember they're going to slide into you, so get out of the way. Charlie Gehringer used to step way out here and throw underhand to first."

The game started with me at shortstop again. In the first inning I juggled a hard smash and threw to first too late. Dugan, umpiring from behind the mound, said, "Nice stop, son," but even I knew it was an error. In the third, with a man on first base, I bobbled a routine bouncer. The runner beat my throw to second, but Dugan charitably called "Out" and brushed aside the catcalls with umpirical grandeur. The pitching had improved since the first day. Both boys I faced were fast, and they threw real curves. Against the first one I swung out ahead of a good curve, rolling to the first baseman. The second pitcher struck me out on a fine curve that broke in around my knees. As I left the batter's box, someone cackled, "Send me my train fare, mama. They're throwin' curves!"

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