Tryout the stuff of dreams

Former Colorado Mesa pitcher/outfielder Garrett Carpenter pitches Saturday at an open tryout at Suplizio Field in front of GJ Rockies coaches Tony Diaz, Anthony Sanders and Ryan Kibler.

When is it time to give up the dream?

Only one person can make that call. Not your family or friends, not your girlfriend or drinking buddy, not even your psychic can tell you when to quit.

Tommy Southern stepped into the batting cage at Suplizio Field and promptly ripped one laser after another, then calmly strolled away.

Don’t be fooled by his cool strut and nonchalant demeanor. A fiery pit of nerves and excitement were boiling away inside.

The firmly built, compact 25-year-old from Parker isn’t ready to pound the final nails into the coffin of his Major League Baseball dreams yet. His dream is still strong.

Coaches immediately noticed the fluid left-handed swing. Two line drives, another one slammed off the right-field wall. A short, compact swing — you could almost see it in the eyes of the coaches. Potential? Yes, maybe?

The dream was alive and kicking with this one.

“I came here last year,” he said, laughing at the hideous memory of a horrendous time in the cage. “I definitely redeemed myself this year. It made the day so much better.”

He was one of 12 dreamers with baseball gloves who came to the Grand Junction Rockies’ open tryout Saturday morning.

Most were lean, lanky, muscled athletes who came from college programs. Then there were others. One a tad heavy, another 8, 9 inches under 6-foot.

Let’s be serious, some of these guys are dreaming the impossible dream. The odds facing this determined dozen are steeper than scratching off a winning lottery ticket while being struck by lightning.

But who knows? That’s what Rockies manager Anthony Sanders says.

“The odds are obviously against them, but you never know,” he said. “There’s not much that separates some of these kids from what we (have on the roster). Sometimes it just takes that right opportunity.”

But truthfully, most are facing the impossible. Just don’t tell these guys that. They came and took their cuts, fielded grounders, cranked up the fastball and kept that dream alive, at least for one more day.

When the tryout came to an end, five players — Garrett Carpenter, Chris Hammer, Jeremiah Stuble, Southern and catcher Jeremy Lawhon — got a powerful jolt to their dreams when they were invited to return Saturday night and play in the Grand Junction Rockies’ exhibition game.

Carpenter finished his dream season with Colorado Mesa University a few weeks ago. On Saturday, he impressed the coaches enough to get an invite to the exhibition game.

He admits the definition of crafty left-hander fits him well. But that’s OK. He just wants a chance.

“I just want the opportunity to play minor league baseball, and if it keeps going, then that would be great,” he said.

At 22, he didn’t want to be tormented later.

“I just went out there and threw. I didn’t want to have any regrets. And I don’t,” he said.

It’s obvious pitching is easier to evaluate at the small tryouts, where position players have a few grounders and about 20 swings to make an impression.

After Carpenter finished his 15-20 pitches, Marc Gustafson, the Rockies’ senior director of scouting operations, flipped open his cell phone and called CMU coach Chris Hanks. The chat was quick, and Gustafson jotted down a few notes.

For Hammer, a four-year veteran at the University of Northern Colorado, and Stuble, a 23-year-old who pitched at CSU-Pueblo, this was their shot.

The right-handers pounded the strike zone at 88-89 mph. Not bad, not great. Potential? Yes, maybe?

After Stuble snapped off a tight-breaking curveball, Sanders smiled from behind the cage.

“That’s nasty,” he said.

Stuble has been out of baseball for a year, but he’s not quite ready to walk away.

“I just don’t want to put the ball down yet,” he said.

Hammer made the trek from Greeley.

“I didn’t get my name called the last two years (in the MLB draft), but that’s why they have these tryouts, and I’m thankful for that. I get another opportunity to pursue my dream,” he said.

This dozen showed up for another chance, maybe that final chance to live the dream.

“I’d like to say I’ll never give it up,” Hammer said. After a slight pause, a tight-lipped smile took over, and he added, “Honestly, this is probably the last straw right here.”

The five who were invited to play in Saturday night’s exhibition game refused to smile when they heard their names called. Maybe they didn’t want to taunt the seven who didn’t make it. Maybe they were numb. Maybe they know they are still dreaming on borrowed time.

The rest dropped their chins a little, packed their bags and trudged out of Suplizio Field.

Southern is the real “Rocky” story. Three years after he last played in junior college, the pride of tiny Kiowa refuses to let his dream fade away. His sweet swings in the cage made an impression.

“I can’t even describe the feeling,” he said. “It’s a dream come true for sure.”

But how much longer will that dream linger if he doesn’t make it this time?

“That’s something I think about almost every day,” he said with a chuckle. “Is this the last time I do it, or do I give it another shot? Is it time to move on? I don’t know. I feel like when I’m supposed to move on, I guess that’s when I will quit trying.”

Dreams die hard. They should. Without a dream, you’re just another guy with a dusty glove on the shelf wondering if you quit too soon.


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