Tuesday, October 27, 1998

Providing another chance to Lovett

COLUMN: Admiration of baseball leads writer to try out for team
yet again

At least I gave it the ol’ college try.

This past Sunday I made my fourth consecutive attempt at joining
the ranks of the exclusive – becoming a member of the UCLA baseball
team, coached by the legendary Gary Adams.

For me, playing for the Bruins was always a lifetime dream,
though I pretty much gave up on that dream after my first three
attempts failed. So this year I thought that I would take a
different mentality into the tryouts: just relax, have fun, and
enjoy my moment in the sun.

Fortunately, the weather was beautiful. Blue skies, sparse
clouds, 78 degrees Fahrenheit, nice little breeze. Perfect baseball
weather. My roommate Tony even cooked me a nutritious, fulfilling
breakfast of pancakes, pizza, and orange juice to help me clear
away the cobwebs of the previous nights’ hangover.

I hopped in my Ranger and bumped some Outkast (damn, Aquemini is
dope; pick it up if you don’t have it) to get me hyped for the
daunting task that awaited me at Jackie Robinson Stadium.

When I first got there, something struck me as not just odd, but
outrageous: there were only 12 people there. During each of the
previous three tryouts, there were at least 40 people.

I wonder, did word get out that the baseball team was young and
hungry, therefore deterring potential tryout-ees? Did the 1998
major league baseball season scare people from trying out because
they can’t mash like McGwire? How could only 12 of 35,000 people
want to take a crack at playing for a Division I powerhouse?

Whatever it was, I wasn’t really that concerned. For all I
cared, it made my chances better. That was until Adams made his
"welcome to tryouts" speech.

"There’s just not much room on the team, especially with the new
limits on the amount of players we can have," Adams said. "Unless
we see a real standout player – well, it just doesn’t look
good."

Adams went on to explain that he hadn’t had a walk-on make the
team for five years (Cassidy Olson). He further depleted our hopes
by saying, "I doubt there will be any Cinderella stories, so just
think of all the time you’ll save by not having to go to practices
and games."

After that demoralizing "pep talk", he proceeded to introduce
the coaches, Vincent Beringhele (hitting), Tim Leary (pitching),
Robert Hinds (infield and base running), and Coach Mack (strength
and conditioning). Team manager Omar Pinto and athletic trainer
Catherine Manalo were there as well.

The first test for us baseball-heads was the 60-yard dash. Here
was my chance to show my blazing speed. We all got two chances to
run and, well, let’s just say I won’t be challenging Freddie
Mitchell anytime soon, broken femur or not. The best time was a
6.78, which Adams explained was better than the major league
average. Adams told us not to be hard on ourselves for a lack of
collective group speed because, "the better you hit, the faster
scouts think you are."

So then we were off to the batting round of tryouts, with Omar
taking the hill and coach Beringhele intently watching and grading
hitters on a scale of 2-8, which is the standard major league
measure of hitting. I was shagging in the outfield with Coach Mack,
chatting about his background.

I found out Coach Mack is actually Makoto Ueda, a coach from Kao
University in Japan. He says Japanese baseball is "more
militaristic and less fun," so he came to UCLA to "study real
baseball." That” a quality comment, I thought to myself.

Everybody took turns hitting about 15 pitches, and then it was
my turn. "I’m gonna wow ‘em with my bat," I thought to myself. Yep,
they always need those singles hitters with slow bat speed in top
programs. I proceeded to take a few good hacks and actually
surprised the coaches, who rated my performance a 4 on the scale,
not bad considering there were only two higher scores of those who
tried out.

Next order of business was the fielding portion. Everybody went
out to their position to show their stuff in the field. I decided
that I’m too much of a primadonna, so I decided to sit on the bench
and talk to Catherine, or Cat, as she prefers to be called. She
thinks baseball is a "moment sport," which is a polite way to say
that she thinks it’s boring. We can’t please ‘em all.

While the fielding part concluded, I chatted with Tim Leary, who
explained to me that you pretty much have to throw 90 miles per
hour to make the team. I was a pitcher in high school and American
Legion, but I topped out at 86 mph, and that was about three years
ago. But I had a trick up my sleeve, guaranteed to earn me my
rightful place on the roster, with jersey No.34.

You see, the pitching part is my forte. I don’t have the
velocity I once had, but in my evolving process as a player, I
added a new weapon to my arsenal – the knuckleball. I can’t go
wrong with the knuckleball. At least I thought so. Adams and Leary
explained that the pitching segment of tryouts will consist of
pitchers throwing to batters in game situations.

That was sweet. Pitching in Jackie Robinson Stadium was a
personal highlight. I was out there on the mound, ready to earn my
spot in Bruin lore.

The first batter I faced grounded out to second base. One up,
one down. The second batter popped up to second base. "Nice. I’m
mowing ‘em down out here," I said with newfound confidence.

The third batter was in for it. I threw him a knuckleball and he
proceeded to whiff, rather embarrassingly, I might add. "They saw
my knuckleball, there’s no way they’re cutting me."

On the next pitch (a hung curveball), that same batter hit a
drive, off the wall in left center. It was a bomb. "That’s okay.
It’s just one hit," I said, justifying it to myself.

I hit the next batter in the head. With a fastball. It was
purely accidental, I assure you. Same thing with the next batter,
except this time I hit the guy in the ribs. I swear it was just a
coincidence and had nothing to do with the near-home run I
surrendered.

Adams yelled out, "last batter," so I knew I had to give it my
all. Gotta go with the bread and butter. Knuckleball, knuckleball,
fastball. Three pitch strikeout – that was sweet. With the
exception of the double and the two hit batters, I had a pretty
good outing.

Adams and Leary told me that I topped out at 83 mph, and that
"for the benefit of the team, you should stick to
sportswriting."

I was crushed. Head in my hands, I broke out into a full-on
crying tantrum that delayed the tryouts for at least 20 minutes.
Adams promptly brought me some ice cream and assured me that it
would be OK. I smiled and tryouts resumed.

When all was said and done, Adams pondered the validity of
having a tryout if people like me were going to show up. He said it
was tradition and politely asked me if I’d stay away next year. He
informed us that, not surprisingly, nobody made the team.

Driving home with chocolate on my shirt, I thought back on the
wonderful experience I had. How can you go wrong playing baseball
at Jackie Robinson Stadium?

So what if I didn’t make the team, I’d be back next year.

To give it the ‘ol college try.

With this column, Evan Lovett effectively proved the old credo,
"Those who can, do; those who can’t, write sports." He can be
reached at elovett@media.ucla.edu.

Evan Lovett

Comments, feedback, problems?

© 1998 ASUCLA Communications Board[Home]