Chasing A Dream: The Try-Out Chronicles

For many young baseball players in the Houston-area, making the big leagues is the ultimate dream, the fantasy pay-off for years of practice and hard work. But only a fraction of even the best athletes ever play professional baseball, an elite fraternity that's hard to break into. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, several times each year, the Houston Astros and a colorful local scout hold open try-outs for ballplayers who are still chasing the dream.

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"All right, if I can have your attention and you can listen up, I'm going to go over a few things."

In front of about 200 Major League hopefuls at a baseball field in The Woodlands, Astros scout Rusty Pendergrass is realistic.

"I have signed people out of a try-out camp before. I've taken a guy straight from here, sent him to Minute Maid, signed his contract and he got on a plane the next day. The odds of that happening is me growing hair again, but it does happen, okay? Does everybody understand that?"

Most players do and that's why they're here. For Pendergrass, an area scout for Houston since 2000, there's something in this for him too. He's on the look-out for the next Mickey Mantle or Nolan Ryan.

"It's like going to a carnival and you throw that dart against the board with the balloons and every now and then you hit one and it's a good reward. You never know what you're going to find out here. I've had guys show up, 93 or 95 and didn't even know who they were, so you tend to like that."

"Fastball over here."

As young hurlers show their stuff on the mound, 22-year-old Britt Harris watches, ready for his turn to impress the scouts. Harris recently graduated from college, but wasn't drafted.

"I'd feel bad if I didn't give it a shot. If I'm out here giving it my all, that's all that I need. If I don't make it and I gave it my all I'm fine with that. Sometimes you have to get lucky at these things, have to kind of be the perfect guy that they need at the moment. You're not going to get picked if you're not out here."

"Set go. Run hard. Run hard. Don't stop. Don't stop."

A 60-yard sprint in the hot sun is the quickest way to weed-out players who aren't ready for the big leagues. Brian Cooley, who played high school ball in Spring and a year with the Aggies, isn't exactly fast, but says he's not about to quit.

"I met a guy here that was 32 and he's totally built-up in shape and he's ready to play. If everybody works hard, there's success stories everywhere in sports. Michael Jordon was cut his freshman year in high school. He kept going with it and now he's a Hall of Famer."

Then, there's 45-year-old truck driver Ken Thomas.

"I'm a descent hitter, good arm, mainly infield player."

Thomas is wearing black knee-high socks, red softball shorts with a Mt. Dew stuffed in his pocket. He also has a dream.

"You have the willpower to do anything in the world that you want. Go do it. All they're going to say is hey, you gave it a good try. Better luck next time."

"Everything home. I need someone at the dish."

One of the youngest here is 17-year-old Karl Pringle. He just graduated from Westbury High School and hopes there's a lot more baseball in his future.

"I think anybody who plays baseball ever since they were young kind of has a dream of making it to the pros someday. Why not take a chance and try to live it? You know what I'm saying?"

For now Pringle and everybody else at the try-out will have to wait. The scout, Rusty Pendergrass, didn't sign anybody, but says he's still talking to a few guys. The other will have to keep chasing their dreams of big league baseball.

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