I got to talking last week with Baltimore Orioles scouting supervisor Jim Gilbert and other scouts, coaches and players about the things a young baseball player needs to do to get seen by pro and college scouts.
In discussing the 12th annual Anne Arundel County Sun-Oriolelanders baseball game and some of the top players in it, we got into a conversation about exposure.
Over the years, nearly 85 players who have played in the Oriolelanders game have been drafted or signed by a big-league team, but playing in that showcase is not the lone reason many of those guys got the chance. There is much more. The game has become a steppingstone after the player has done all the homework.
Yes, such games provide tremendous exposure, but it's what happens in a young guy's baseball life leading up to such games that gets him the chance at professionalbaseball or a college scholarship.
So, you ask, what does it take?
The bottom line is that a young player has to make the commitment to baseball, which means sacrifice and hard work. While your friends are having fun at the ocean or at a party, you pay the price by being out on the baseball field, taking batting and infield practice andgetting ready for a game.
It all comes down to how badly you really want to do it.
The idea is to become what the pro scouts call "a prospect," or what the Orioles define as "a likely candidate to become a professional baseball player at some time in the future."
That could mean upon graduation from high school, during or after college, or after high school while playing on an amateur team and being afree agent.
"I think a lot of kids don't realize what it takes toget seen as a pro or college prospect," said Arundel High assistant baseball coach Tut O'Hara.
O'Hara, who also coaches the Mayo Legion Post No. 226 team and its 16-and-under juniors, said young players have to work at being seen as much as possible by those who make the big decisions.
Basically, that means going to all the tryout campsin your area.
Scouts are in a fraternity of sorts and constantly compare notes, because it's next to impossible to hide someone. If you become a prospect, usually several clubs have labeled you as one.
Of course, once in a while a team will do what it can to keep otherclubs from seeing too much of someone it is very interested in drafting or signing. An ex-Oriole and Detroit Tiger, Larry Sheets, who is from Staunton, Va., was one of such secret.
In 1978, I coached a 20-and-under team called Mike's Auto Mart with Gilbert, and we had Sheets along with a host of others who would later sign. One Sunday we played at Towson State University against A & S Contractors, and Sheets doubled his first time up. It was a shot, and later he got up againwith the bases loaded.
Then Orioles' scouting director Tom Giordano, who is with the Cleveland Indians these days, --ed over behind mewhere I was coaching third base and told me to get Sheets out of thegame. I, of course, wanted Sheets to hit with the bases loaded, but because the team was assembled by Oriole scouts and co-sponsored by the club, I followed orders.
Giordano wanted Sheets out because a group of scouts from several other clubs was coming over the hill to see him. But the Orioles had made up their minds to draft and sign Sheets.
The late Dick Bowie, the man Gilbert succeeded as supervisor,had seen Sheets in a summer tryout camp and liked him. Coming from such a small town, Sheets had not been seen that much by the scouts, and the Orioles wanted to keep it that way. The Orioles had two picks on the second round in June 1978 and took Sheets and Cal Ripken Jr.
"We have found a lot of good kids at our tryout camps over the years," said Gilbert, who learned the tryout camp procedure from Bowie.
"We are always looking for the younger kids at those camps, kids wecan follow through high school to see how they progress. A lot of players have been drafted because they came to tryout camps on a regular basis, and, of course, did the other things it takes."
It takes sacrifice and maybe giving up that summer fling in Ocean City. A player has to set goals and go after them.
"Going to tryout camps means getting out of bed on a summer morning for a 9 a.m. workout, and ifa kid hasn't been used to doing that, it becomes all the more difficult," said Arundel High head coach and Orioles' associate scout Bernie Walter.
"Kids get to high school and their senior year decide togo to a camp when maybe they should have been there in their underclass years."
Playing on a summer team that plays a lot of baseball and travels to regional and national tournaments is a necessity. A lot of the hard-working associate and part-time scouts beat the bushes in the summertime and follow the better teams around. If they see a really good kid from out of town in their area, they usually get in touch with the guy who covers that athlete's area.
Teams -- like Walter's 18-and-under Mayo Post No. 226 legion team and Bill Nevin's 16-and-under Glen Burnie Patriots -- that annually travel to national tournaments are the kind of teams we are talking about. What you have in those kinds of situations is a commitment not only on the part of the players but the coaches as well.
Not too many guys get noticed playing in community leagues unless they are blessed with God-given ability and size. The average athlete has to be seen as much as possible.
"I would say about 5 percent of the players in the big leaguesare there because of God-given talents and the other 95 percent because of sacrifice and tenacity," said Walter, who has coached close to300 boys who have gone on to professional baseball in his nearly 30 years as a high school, Legion and Junior Olympics coach.
"You can't be a social butterfly or identified as a party animal if you want to go somewhere in baseball."
That means staying away from alcoholand drugs and not making chasing girls a full-time venture. For someit might mean not having as much pocket change as you would like or that first car right away because you can't work a lot and still playbaseball.
We're not saying not to have fun, but rather to have your fun moderately and wisely and remember what your focus is.
Thatis easier said than done and takes a special person to keep his priorities in the right order. It also takes a special person to play probaseball or earn a college scholarship.
Former Northeast star DonGilbert is a prime example. Frustrated because he didn't get draftedout of high school or while in college, Gilbert never gave up. At 22, he kept playing and going to the tryout camps and giving up the party scene while hoping for his shot.
Gilbert got his shot when he gave up a trip to Kings Dominion with his friends to take some extra batting practice. After an 0-for-4 night with the Arundel Stars unlimited team, Gilbert decided to give up the pleasure for more work.
That morning the Orioles were looking to sign an infielder for their rookie club in Bluefield, and Gilbert (no relation to the scout) was there to take the call. He just completed his first year in pro baseball, batting .272 at Bluefield.
Finally, you need to play fall baseball and, if time permits, attend a winter instructional camp or two such as those at Catonsville Community College and Calvert Hall High.Through the efforts of veteran umpire Jocko Svoboda, the fall leagueis in its ninth year and has grown to 20 teams.
The results of the fall league and the well-run summer program by Lew Holmes, the AnneArundel Amateur Baseball Association for high school-age kids, have been shown by Anne Arundel County earning the reputation of, in the words of Jim Gilbert, "the best high school baseball in the state -- and a lot of other scouts will tell you the same thing."