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A long shot is still a shot.

Byline: Adam Jude The Register-Guard

Mike Kirby looked like a traffic cop, and I sensed that he wanted to issue me some sort of citation.

Kirby, an assistant coach for the Oregon baseball team, stood outside of a batting cage, looking uninspired as I stepped to the plate. He sized me up for a moment, then dropped his head and scribbled on his clipboard.

He was judging my swing, but he might as well have been writing me a fine for wasting his time. I certainly couldn't be accused of speeding.

"Slow bat," he wrote.

Could've been worse. When I asked how he evaluated me, Kirby was actually quite helpful and constructive - which was generally true of all the UO coaches Saturday during a three-hour tryout for the school's reborn baseball program. With the fate of 60 prospective walk-ons in their hands, the coaches seemed determined to give everyone a fair shake, which is more than they had to do.

Some of the guys who came to try out shouldn't have bothered. But there was some real talent, too. There were also a few misfits and castoffs; some never-weres and almost-theres. And one sports reporter who peaked along with his curveball when he was 12, some 15 years ago.

We were all there because we had something in common: We are dreamers, caught up in the buzz about having baseball back and hoping to catch a coach's eye.

We all gathered at the Moshofsky Center and met head coach George Horton in a semi-circle around the "O" in the middle of the football field. Horton was candid: "It's going to be tough for you to make the team," he told us, explaining that there were already 43 players on the roster - and eight of those guys will need to be cut before the season to meet the NCAA limit - and the new recruiting class was recently ranked No. 2 in the nation by one publication.

Basically, you'd better flash something special to be considered.

"Just go hard and have fun," Horton told us. "Try to pretend nobody's watching."

I settled in with the outfielders and did my best.

Our first test was a timed 60-yard run. We were teamed up in sets of two - a head-to-head race - and I was in the very last group with Sean Castro, a UO sophomore who hadn't played baseball since he was in middle school. He ran cross country and swam at Springfield High School but decided to give this a shot because, well, why not?

I told Castro, please, don't embarrass me. Then I beat him by a good 10 yards. (Sorry, dude.)

Assistant coach Bryson LeBlanc recorded my time as 7.31 seconds. Not bad, he said. But what they were really looking for was something under seven seconds; the fastest guy LeBlanc recorded ran a 6.94.

With a little momentum, I moved over to the next drill - an intimidating throw to home plate from 80 to 90 yards away.

Andrew Schumacher and Russ Razor each took turns before me, and most of their five throws were crisp and on-target. Both were holding out hope for an invitation to the team.

Schumacher, a former three-sport star at Churchill High, transferred this summer from Eastern Washington, where he spent one season as a quarterback; having a chance to play baseball was a big part of his decision to come to Oregon.

"I feel I did OK," Schumacher said later. "I was pretty nervous."

After graduating from Cottage Grove High, Razor played two seasons at Lane Community College, and he said, "I just wanted an opportunity here."

My turn finally came in the outfield, and Kirby hit a grounder in my direction. I charged the ball, picked it up cleanly and fired home - or at least in the direction of home. It was a low throw and skipped probably a half-dozen times before reaching the catcher.

I hustled back to the starting spot and repeated the throw four more times. One probably would have nailed a runner trying to score from second; another was so far off that it probably would have hit the runner coming around third base. I was too dizzy to remember the last couple tosses.

"Nice throws, man," Nick Anderson later told me, as we waited in line at the batting cage.

It was the best compliment I'd receive all day. I thought maybe he just wanted his name in the paper, which is fine. Flattery will get your name in print; it won't get on you on the team. You need to some power for that, and Anderson came through in that regard, too.

A 2003 first-team all-Midwestern League outfielder at Sheldon, Anderson swung like he wanted to hurt the ball, whereas I swung hoping that the ball wouldn't hurt me.

Horton took notice, and Anderson was one of the few guys the coach talked to as he exited the cage.

In my second round in the batting cage, Horton gave me a score of 40 (out of 80) in my 10 swings in front of him. It was better than the 30 Kirby gave me in my first session, but that was going up against an 87-mph heater.

"Guys are asking me why is it up so high," Kirby said. "Hey, this is what you get every night in the Pac-10. If this were the Mountain West, maybe we could turn it down a little."

Afterward, Horton called everyone together again. He thanked us for coming out; he said there were "two or three" guys he would discuss with his staff and probably bring back in for an extended tryout. But, again, for even those select few it would be a long shot to actually make the opening-day roster.

Whoever is chosen, Horton said he would call them by the end of this week.

I'll be waiting by the phone, just in case he's in need of an old outfielder with decent speed, an average arm and a slow bat.

Coach Horton can contact sports reporter Adam Jude at 338-2616 or adam.jude@registerguard.com.
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Title Annotation:Sports; Oregon baseball hopefuls take their chances during tryout at Moshofsky Center
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 6, 2008
Words:1018
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