One Good Day

The siren call of the baseball diamond still lures hopefuls looking for a shot at the Bigs.

Because you never know.

After all, that's how Sealy got his start. He was a big, thick catcher from Alabama who went to countless major-league tryouts, traveling road shows where regional scouts crisscrossed the Bible Belt checking out the young talent. And when he was fifteen, Sealy caught somebody's eye. He played some decent years, first with the Rangers organization and then with the Seattle Mariners, in their farm system, ending up at the AAA Tacoma Rainiers, hitting a consistent .270 -- not bad, but, ultimately, not good enough.

He retired a few years ago, grew a little thick around the belt, thought first about maybe going into coaching. But a friend told him to try scouting for a few seasons, and so here he is, on the road almost constantly -- holding tryouts, stationing himself behind home plate with a radar gun at Connie Mack tournaments, slipping into the stands on still-aired Arizona afternoons to take in the East Nowhere High v. West Middle-of-the-Desert matchup, because he's heard some kid throwing that day has a catapult arm and a breaking ball that dives like a one-winged plane. This trip began in late July, and Sealy won't sleep in his own bed in Mesa, Arizona, until mid-September.

"Outfielders," he calls, and a few dozen guys trot out into right field to take fly balls and air out their arms to third and then to home. Thompson says a kid's name, and Sealy, hitting to the field from the pitcher's mound, yells it out. The kid (some are dressed in sweats, a few shorts, many in smooth, tight baseball pants, as if the right wardrobe might help them get the part) separates himself from the crowd. He takes his stance and waits for Sealy to smack a fly.

After watching the balls whiz past first his left ear, to third, and then his right, to home, Sealy mutters a score to an assistant, who writes it on a card the kids have filled out with their names, ages, addresses. The grades range from a three to an eight, with a five meaning the kid has an arm like your average, journeyman major leaguer. Sealy assesses most as a two. Some boys don't even merit a mark. "Oh, my," he says as a throw dribbles by the mound, rolling like a boccie-ball toss. "They don't make a score for that."

But to the kids he is unfailingly encouraging. Each boy, no matter how good, gets the same number of balls to field and throw. "You got guys here that can't throw, can't catch -- just weren't born to play baseball," he says. "But they make the effort to come out here, do a workout in the hot sun, take batting practice in the heat. So you gotta show them respect." Even when one young kid misses an easy one-hopper -- barely Little League, never mind Major League -- Sealy is kind. "Bad hop," he calls. "Take another one."

And he's always on the lookout for the Moment. There is a brief pause and silence among Sealy's crew as a stocky, pigeon-toed kid from Nebraska fields a ball cleanly and buggy-whips the throw to third base, eye-high on a single hop. The ball hisses in the air. One of Sealy's assistants holds out the kid's card and Sealy glances at it. "What'd he run the sixty in?" he asks. The answer is "Slow," and so Sealy moves on and the Moment passes.

"Infielders," Sealy calls, and the glovemen form a knot behind deep shortstop. They step forward one by one to take three sharp grounders to their glove side, then one to the backhand and finally a slow roller that catches in the infield grass, lets Sealy see how the kid can field and throw on the run. "This kid in high school?" Sealy wonders as a lanky guy with Rollie Finger '70s hair and a goatee steps onto the dirt.

"College," says Thompson, checking the card.

"I was gonna say. None of the high school coaches I know let 'em wear their hair like that."

"First basemen!" Sealy yells, and the half dozen or so boys who've staked out that position line up just outside of the line. The first kid, who plays with a perpetual Lenny Dykstra grimace, fields Sealy's stinging grounders as casually as if he's scooping litter for Adopt-a-Highway. His throws whir across the diamond on a vibrating rope.

"Hey, Ryan," Sealy calls to the kid, looking at his card. "You ever pitch before?"

"Yeah."

"You go to Christian Academy?"

"Yeah."

"You pitch for me today?"

"Yeah," Ryan says, walking to the side of the field with maybe just a little more swagger.

"Catchers!" Sealy yells, and the big guys with the thick legs and black pads line up behind the plate as Sealy grabs a bucket of balls and two of his assistants crouch next to him with stopwatches in their hands. They are to measure the "pop-to-pop" -- the time between the pop the ball makes as Sealy's pitch lands in the catcher's mitt and the pop it makes after the catcher yanks it out of the cushion and throws it into the glove of the second baseman 127 feet, three-and-three-quarters inches away.

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