Editor's Note from John: As part of our efforts to keep you entertained while I am on the disabled list, I asked our contributors to tell the story of how they became interested in minor league baseball. Share your own stories here!
Nick Melotte: I can remember the day when my affinity for minor league baseball began. It was June 15th, 2011. I had woken up at 6 am to get ready or a tryout two hours away. I was 22 and my window to play baseball professionally was closing day by day. At 8 am, I pulled in to State Mutual Stadium, the home of the Rome Braves in the Low A South Atlantic League. It was the only open tryout near where I lived in 2011 and it was exclusively for my hometown team. To say I was excited is the understatement of the year. I grabbed my spikes, my worn out Rawlings glove and my lucky bat, a 33 inch Easton maple, and headed for sign ups.
I saw guys I had played with and against for the last 10 years milling around, stretching, and psyching themselves up. Me? I just took a seat in the bleachers and soaked it all in. Aside from Turner Field I hadn't seen anything so perfect and so beautiful. I had never been to a minor league game before so this was my first experience in a minor league park. The grass looked like it was manicured blade by blade with a pair of scissors. Even the dirt looked nicer, as if it was imported from some exotic locale. The only thing differentiating this from Turner Field was the upper deck and ads on the outfield walls. I gathered my thoughts and got in my zone.
We started with the 60 yard dash. I knew I would be lucky to get anything in the seven second range because I had tweaked my knee turning a double play a few days before. My toes dug into the warning track, my legs tense and ready to explode. My first step I spun out, slipping on the warning track before my spikes found grass. I turned in a 7.8 second run, finishing a good 10 yards behind my running partner and a full second behind the fastest guy there. Next up was fielding. All infielders (including myself) lined up behind the short stop and one by one took five ground balls. They hit one to each side, two right at us and one slow roller we had to charge. I fielded all five with ease, making perfect throws into the first baseman's chest.
At this point the brass had seen enough to make the first round of cuts. Anyone who couldn't get under seven seconds in the 60 was gone. Boot a grounder? See ya next year. Bad throw? You're out. Unfortunately my bad knee put me in the first group and my day was over. I could not believe it wasn't enough to even get to swing the bat. Still, I was in awe of what I had just done. I went to the dugout and pulled up some pine to give myself time to digest. I looked around and saw the remaining players starting to put on their gear to hit. You couldn't get away from the smell of pine tar if you tried. The velcro from ankle guards, elbow guards, and batting gloves getting tightened filled the air. My jealousy for them was through the roof. As they prepared, I went to one of the evaluators to find out what I needed to improve for next year. It turns out I was speaking with the area scout for the Braves, Brian Bridges. He was the one to key me in on the seven second rule in the 60 and also told me that my arm was a 40 on the scouting scale, my fielding was a 40 and body control was a 35. Looking back now, my speed was in the "Japhet Amador" realm. He also broke the news that at my age, I was at the end of the line. I thanked him and returned to the dugout.
I gathered my equipment and just sat there. All around me guys were running through mental checklists of their swing. I got up to leave; I couldn't take it. It was one of the hardest things I had dealt with in my brief life. In the movie adaptation of "Moneyball", there is a line from Barry, a scout, that sums it all up."We're all told at some point in time that we can no longer play the children's game, we just don't... don't know when that's gonna be. Some of us are told at eighteen, some of us are told at forty, but we're all told."
At that point I made the realization that playing baseball for a living was not in my cards. The game of baseball is such a huge part of my life that I knew one way or another, my life would be centered around it. On my drive home I kept thinking about how cool it was that I had just ran in the same outfield Jason Heyward patrolled just three years before. I took grounders in the same spot as Elvis Andrus had. Then it clicked that all these guys had to make it through Rome. The minor leagues were an essential stop for any star.
It was that trip home from Rome that I decided I wanted to know who was who before they hit the big leagues. I liked the minors, and I wanted to know everything I could from then on.