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Professional Try-Out Camps
Reprinted from the Reading Eagle / Times

Although the Phillies were looking for players in the 15-22 age group, 52-year-old catcher Bruce Frankel decided to show up for a tryout Wednesday at Municipal Stadium. (Eagle/Times: Tim Leedy)

It's Show time - Phillies tryout camps give ray of hope to aspiring players as well as has-beens.

By Todd Jacobson
Eagle/Times (7/17/99)

Mike Memminger drove over an hour from Harrisburg just to play baseball Wednesday.

Sure, there are plenty of fields in Dauphin County where the 21-year-old outfielder could have played, but only Reading's Municipal Stadium gave Memminger a shot to be seen by Philadelphia Phillies scouts, who were on hand conducting a tryout camp.

Memminger and nearly 150 other aspiring professional ballplayers showcased their talent Wednesday for Ken Hultzapple, Philadelphia's Mid-Atlantic States scout supervisor, and his staff in hopes of catching their eye.

Though it's rare that players are signed to professional contracts from a tryout camp - Hultzapple conducted numerous tryout camps last year and signed only one player, left-handed pitcher David Staples, who is with the Phillies Gulf Coast team - Memminger hasn't been deterred. He attended a Phillies tryout camp at Bucknell University a few weeks ago, plans to attend a Baltimore Orioles tryout camp today in Palmyra and has attended numerous tryout camps.

Anywhere there's a tryout camp, I try to be there," said Memminger, who played for two years with Hagerstown Community College in Maryland. I've been to a couple Phillies tryouts; I just go to as many as I can just to try and get seen. I'm just giving it a shot."

It's a long shot, though, and Hultzapple said signing blue-chip prospects is rarely a priority at these camps.

We usually sign one or two players a year, but we get to see kids and we can track them," Hultzapple said. We can see the good kids again next spring. If we can get two or three good kids out of this, that's great."

All position players at the camp were tested for speed in the 60-yard dash and for arm strength. The pitchers were clocked on a radar gun in the bullpen. Roughly 40 of the original 150 players were then chosen to take batting practice in a simulated game.

If a player catches a scout's eye at the tryout camp, the player will be followed throughout his high school, American Legion and college career. It's the Phillies' way of finding players who slipped through the cracks and those who still haven't blossomed into full-blown prospects.

Players have made it to the major leagues after being signed at a tryout camp. Right-hander Ron Blazier, who played with the Reading Phillies in 1995, was signed out of a Phillies tryout camp and reached the majors in 1996. Third base-man Keith Hughes reached the majors with four separate teams in a three-year span during the late '80s, then went on to coach in the minor leagues. Both were overlooked by conventional scouting methods, which should give at least a glimmer of hope to some who were trying out.

I just got done with school and a couple of my buddies said I threw the ball really well and said I should come down here and give it a try," said 22-year-old Spencer Curtis, a 6-5 right-hander from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I am getting to the point that I sort of need to get signed soon."

Reasons for trying out Wednesday were nearly as varied as the players' ages.

Nick Evangelista, 17, Hamburg's ace right-hander, wanted to showcase his talent so the Phillies would be interested in scouting him next year. Catcher Adam Shafer, 19, was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers last July, then released in April, and is trying to get back into pro ball. Bruce Frankel, a 52-year-old gray-haired catcher, just wanted to play baseball.

I am driven to do this," Frankel said. It's a dream. As long as I am having fun and I am enjoying myself out here, the best I can hope for is that they don't cut me this morning. Maybe I will have until 2 or 3 o'clock today to play ball on this field with these guys."

Frankel was cut shortly after noon, but spent the rest of the day watching with his 10-year-old son, who accompanied him to the tryout. He said it was odd playing with high school and college players, some just five years older than his son. Players aged 15-22 were invited to the camp.

I expected (that I would be the oldest)," Frankel said. I thought there wouldn't be a guy here over 25. So I am twice as old as I think the next guy that's here is. They all look like they are fresh out of high school."

Some of Berks County's most talented players aren't even out of high school, and aren't inexperienced, either.

Both Evangelista and Exeter's Dave Demko made it past the first cut to the simulated game. But their Legion exploits - Demko finished second in the league with nine home runs and Evangelista was 5-2 on the mound for Hamburg - didn't carry as much weight in the face of the stiff talent at the tryout camp.

But Demko and Evangelista aren't really thinking about being signed - yet. They're both seniors-to-be, hoping their performances at the tryout will get them extra looks during their senior year.

It's all about seeing where I am at right now, especially considering I still have another year left," Evangelista said. Hopefully I have a good shot to go to college and get some good exposure from this."

He also said he realized something when he stepped onto Municipal Stadium's grass. When I stepped on the field today, I realized it was the first step,"Evangelista said. It feels like it's a step closer to being on a major league ballclub."


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