By Nick Hampton
FORT GIBSON – Over 1,200 high school and college players heard their names called in the recently completed Major League Baseball first-year player draft.
But about 30 who did not get that cherished phone call tried to keep the dream alive Sunday as the Atlanta Braves had an open try out for players ages 16-24, held at the Fort Gibson indoor facility due to overnight and early morning rains.
Braves area scout Gerald Turner opened the session talking to the group about diamonds in the rough like current Atlanta catcher Evan Gattis who started his major league climb in a tryout like this one. Although a budding star could be found in a tryout, Turner said that’s not the real reason for them.
“The reason we do this is to create a follow-up list for us to use next year,” said Turner. “There were several kids here that I knew nothing about that I will have an interest in next spring now that I’ve seen them perform. Out of group like this, I’ll probably re-contact 10-12 of them.”
Fort Gibson coach Randy Smith and his staff ran the tryouts which also drew interest from others in the area including Northeastern State coach Travis Janssen.
“Coach Smith was nice enough to invite me and the reason I’m here is obviously for recruiting purposes,” said Janssen. “We’re still looking to find some guys for our program who have talent so I came to see if there’s anything here.”
Certainly one player who drew all the coaches and Turner’s attention was a pitcher who didn’t come to the tryouts to pitch.
Carlos Leal, a junior at Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss., hit .333 for the Statesmen this past season as their starting catcher, which is what brought him to the try out. But he decided to take the mound while he was here and his 94 mph fastball certainly raised some eyebrows.
“I’ve been a catcher my whole career.” said Leal. “I really didn’t know I could throw the ball that hard and I wasn’t even planning on pitching today. I don’t know what made me do it, but I had a pretty good day and threw the ball hard.”
Leal added the folks at Delta State had no idea he could pitch.
The tryout attracted the younger set as well older players who were looking for one last chance to make an impression.
Fort Gibson junior-to-be Boo Seward was one of the younger ones who wanted to give it a try.
“I came to kind of get my name out there and get some cuts in,” said Seward. “I feel like I did pretty good. I squared some balls up and I thought I hit pretty good.”
One of the older players was 24-year old M.J. Sartin from Missouri Southern who’s trying to overcome the stigma of an injury-plagued college career.
“I’ve spent the last two years rehabbing from a bad hamstring injury and now that I’m healthy again I thought I would give it one more shot,” said Sartin. “I’ve been to several of these try outs and have some other scouts from other teams keeping in touch. I’ve still got a passion for the game and with stories like Evan Gattis’, you just never know what might happen.”