Stephen Detwiler has big baseball dreams.
The 2006 grad and current San Rafael High baseball coach dreams of being one of the select few who gets to play “the American Game” for a living.
And, with the San Rafael Pacifics preparing for their first season as an from where Detwiler grew up, he might soon be able to live that dream out in front of his friends and family.
“I’m excited. I can’t wait for it,” said Detwiler.
Detwiler, who now lives in Forest Knolls after playing for other independent professional baseball leagues in New Mexico and New York, joined 60 other dreamers at the Pacifics' first open tryout this past Sunday in Oakland. The tryout was the first of a few open calls the team will have for local players. From those tryouts and through other avenues, about 40 players will eventually be invited to the Pacifics' spring training in May. Only 23 will make the final team.
Most of the guys who showed up in the rain on Sunday morning will not be among those 23.
“This is a fairly high-level of professional baseball,” said Mike Shapiro, the team’s general manager. The quality of play is something that people who haven’t seen it don’t yet appreciate – including many of the players who came to tryout. “They may have been good high school or college players,” he said, but that doesn’t mean they stack up against professional-level players.
Most professional teams don’t even hold open tryouts. They have invite-only tryouts or scouts that reach out to specific players on their radar. The Pacifics will have those things too, but it was important to the team owners that a homegrown, local team have homegrown, local talent.
“One of the things we’re doing is having local tryouts to find local players,” said owner Brian Clark, who eventually hopes to bring four North American Baseball League teams to the Bay Area – starting with San Rafael.
Clark and Shapiro were among an extensive staff putting the hopefuls through their paces on Sunday morning.
The want-to-be professional baseball players were led in stretches, calisthenics, and warm-ups before being asked to run a 50-yard dash, demonstrate their ability to throw and field from their position, take some at-bats, and play in a small inter-squad scrimmage.
Watch the video at right of the tryouts.
When it started raining, umbrellas came out for the coaches and tarps went over the pitching mound, but the players kept playing on the turf field.
Detwiler, who plays outfield, sprinted through his 50-yard dash and fielded balls hit by Pitching Coach Mike LaCoss before heading to the batting cages.
He also made sure to stop and talk to the coaches and owners.
Detwiler grew up playing West Marin and San Rafael Little League before competing on the Varsity squad at San Rafael all four years. He went on to play at Fresno State, winning a national championship there, before signing on to the Las Cruces Vaqueros independent baseball team after graduation. When he heard rumors about a team coming to San Rafael, he didn’t just sit around hoping he’d get to play. He did what anyone with a dream does: he took steps to make it happen.
So, it’s no shock that he got in touch with the manager and owner well before the tryouts and that all the coaching staff now knows him.
Did it pay off?
“We thought he did well in the tryouts,” said Shapiro. “He’s certainly someone [Manager] Mike [Marshall] will look more at.”
Shapiro said they saw a handful of players on Sunday they liked. Manager Mike Marshall will be inviting some of them to further tryouts and to spring training. In the end, maybe five to seven players will come out of tryouts. The rest will be invited from other teams or colleges, and some will even come after being cut from MLB spring training in March.
Making it to the team may be an exciting first step for players hoping to move on to the MLB or it may be a last hurrah for retiring players like Jose Conseco, who plays for and manages the independent league team the Yuma Scorpions. But, even if they make the professional Pacifics squad, they won’t be doing it for the money.
The Pacifics, as part of the North American League, have a player payroll cap of $90,000 – for all 23 players.
Players are also only paid during the season from May to September. That means that players for the Pacifics will likely earn around an average of $1,000 or slightly less per month during the five month season. Typically, players are also offered housing with host families and provided with some food as well.
“Players play for the love of the game,” said Director of Operations Theo Fightmaster.
And, they certainly don’t have time for another job on top of baseball during the season, said Detwiler. “It’s a full-time job,” he said, with workouts in the morning, resting and fueling in the afternoon, and games at night. The rest of the year, he stays sharp training and working out.
“You have to have a love of the game,” he said.
The first Pacifics home game will be June 4 at Albert Park. The squad will be finalized in mid-May after the team’s spring training.