Each summer, in a few chosen towns throughout America, major league baseball becomes a reality for several hundred spirited boys. It leaves the TV screen and the big city and takes to the country in special form—the tryout camp. In Bluefield, W. Va., say, or Johnstown, Pa., tryout day is an occasion for the town and its youngsters. The local newspaper drums up interest and the ball field is slicked into shape; the ballplayers—from 15 to 23—cut summer school and summer jobs to show their skills and earn an approving nod and maybe even a minor league contract.
A few weeks ago the Boston Red Sox took over Cranston Stadium in Cranston, R.I. for just such a camp. In New England the Red Sox are the ball club, and 75 serious young men turned out, some with the solemn if irrational hope of making the big leagues straight off.
Among the less serious aspirants was a nearsighted, still youthful but slightly paunching journalist who hadn't swung a bat in anger in several seasons—me. Equipped with spikes, glove and notebook, I followed a straggling line of young athletes through the left-field gate of Cranston Stadium and onto the diamond. At 9 a.m. the air was already still and sultry, and the boys sat quietly along the first base line. Most were in uniform: Sal's Bakery, Antonelli Plating, Foxey Sport Club. The shirt didn't always match the pants, the fit was hardly exact, but the youngsters did look like ballplayers. I felt uncomfortable in my T shirt, khakis and blue cap, which I'd scuffed in the dirt for the proper effect.
"See that No. 42?" said one boy to a buddy. "He's good."
"Where'd he get that Sox uniform?"
"He used to play for 'em."
"Well, he played for one of their farm teams."
"They all use the same name?"
"Yeah, I guess they must. Anyway, he's good."