My Baseball Path Not Taken
I remember back in the Fall of 1987, I had a brief thought about becoming a baseball scout. I wanted to be on the amateur side of the scouting fence, possibly being the guy to pluck a unforeseen gem out of the treks through the back roads of my assigned region, getting that grand and ultimate joy of watching as a player I signed and watched finally got the chance to toe the rubber or scratched his spot in an MLB Batter’s Box for the first time.
I dreamed back than of possibly finding a rare player like former Tampa Bay Rays RP Travis Phelps who was drafted in the 89th Round of the 1999 MLB Draft and made his journey from unknown to making his MLB Bullpen debut back on April 19, 2001 against the Boston Red Sox and throwing 2 scoreless innings to begin your MLB career . Phelps will forever be a trivia question in bars and baseball contests as the lowest drafted player ever to make it to the MLB ranks. But what a exhilarating thing it must have been for the then D-Rays scout sitting in the stands at obscure Crowder College in Neosho, Missouri and possibly hearing the sound that made you know Phelps had the stuff to be in the big leagues.
The event that brought me again back to daydreaming and wondering if I should of gone down that path was watching my copy of the film, “Trouble With the Curve”. Sure the movie might have done more romancing of the position than is its stark reality, but who in their right mind wouldn’t love the chance to find a future MLB guy possibly playing unseen in a clay field with only a few pairs of eyes gathering his potential, then watching him ascend someday to playing on a MLB diamond.
Sure scouting is a lot harder than waking up a little later in the day, watching potentially hundreds of baseball games, tackling mountains of written reports, data and on-line statistics that swirl the mind in hundreds of directions until those faithful last moments each June that concludes with the annual MLB Draft. Who would want to stretch their baseball evaluation skills to the limit and place all your chips, possibly going ultimately with your gut instincts to decipher and begin the journey towards someone’s life dream.
I truly wanted to hit the trail of becoming a scout hard back in 1987 with a suitcase, duffel bag of equipment and possibly a Juggs gun and begin my education and potential trek to finding my own baseball treasure. I was anxious to begin my own scouting paper trail and take that untampered guttural instinct that is fundamental to the life’s blood of a amateur scout while seeking out talent anywhere and everywhere. I was truly anxious and excited for the adventure of hitting multiple high school or college baseball games and smell that pine tar and see the faces of kids and young adults just starting get a true whiff of their budding potential and chasing their ultimate dream of playing round ball professionally.
I had that dream of possibly sending in a scouting report of a player like Phelps who might have fell off the MLB radar, or played in such a obscure diamond who’s potential was limitless with the right training and guidance. I wanted to get that phone call advising me to change someone’s life by having them sign on the dotted line, potentially changing their life path.
I wanted to be able to sit in the bleached wood stands or under the aluminum overhang of a small ballpark and pick apart a player’s game from hitting, throwing, or any of the other 3 skills most people associate with greatness on the clay and grass fields of the major leagues, plus dig in and see if they also had the courage, determination and confidence to survive the farm system trail on their way to pulling on that MLB jersey. I wanted to see firsthand if they had the tools to handle defeat, pressure and were open-minded and personable with a team aspect fundamental in their baseball makeup.
I wanted to be that guy in the trenches, not an advance scout or a professional level scout who checked in and evaluated talent already plucked and cleaned off by others. I wanted to be like the aging Gus Lobel in “Trouble With the Curve” who could hear the potential of greatness in the crack of the bat, or the solid and resounding thump of a pitch hitting the glove. Maybe I dreamed of potentially changing someone’s life path by seeing beyond the reality of their present family situations and show them another path and chance to provide and bring a positive outcome to their lives.
I really wanted at that time in my life to find a raw talent like Phelps who would one day become a significant piece of my team’s puzzle ascending through the farm system until he finally reached “the Show”. I had the budding aspiration back then of wanting to finding that player who just lite you up inside because of their potential and heart for the game on the deepest level.
It would have been grand to pursue such a task, with the risks and potential for failure being higher than the distant pleasures of potential success. I still wish I had done it because I know I had the internal fortitude and want to be successful. I wasn’t afraid of the hard life and sacrifices that accompanied this line of work. Instead I put my dream of pursuing a scouting career to bed in October 1987 after a phone call.
Maybe being a scout was not in my life’s grand plan, but I do give myself the chance to day dream about scouting as I watch the film wondering if I could of found that special player and then watch as he made his MLB debut. In that I envy the film life of Lobel, but also cherish the decision I made to stay within the embrace of the game as a fan…or maybe a lifetime “scout-in-training”.