Recruiting poster for independent ballplayers
‘Oh, yeah, we’re going to have tryouts for a travel team that will fly up to Grand Forks [British Columbia], Canada, over the Labor Day weekend.”
Speaking is Mickey Deutschman, 69, 16 years as scout for the Atlanta Braves, 10 years as hitting coach for Grossmont College, and owner/field manager of the San Diego–Barona Stars, a semipro baseball club since 1984. The tournament he’s referring to is the Grand Forks International Baseball Tournament (GFI), now in its 32nd year. National teams, teams that have competed in the Olympics when baseball was an Olympic sport, have regularly played in the GIF. It’s billed as one of the largest invitational tournaments in North America. Two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum is an alumnus, as is World Series MVP and current Boston Red Sox pitcher Brendan Ryan.
Deutschman says, “We’ve come in second four or five times and made the money round all but a couple times. Tough tournament. We’ve played Cuba’s national team, the one with all the big guys. We played Japan four times. We played Taiwan. We played Korea. We played Australia. We play Team Canada this year.”
I’m on the phone with Deutschman because his San Diego–Barona Stars are holding tryouts this Sunday and the following Saturday. Anyone can tryout, and if you’re ridiculously good, play ball in an international tournament one week later.
Deutschman says, “Before independent baseball — ”
I break in, “When you say ‘independent ball,’ are you talking about the Newark Bears and — ”
“Like the San Diego [Surf Dawgs], in the Golden Baseball League. Those guys were pros, just weren’t affiliated with major league teams. Before independent ball, all these guys were playing in leagues like ours — semipro leagues [made up of] guys who have been in the big leagues and still wanted to play. Guys were released, played for us, and got re-signed to major league ball clubs. Danny Boone, our left-handed pitcher from the Padres, played with me and re-signed with Baltimore. Jacque Jones was playing for the Cubs. Eddie Williams went with the Padres. We got a pretty good history.”
I ask, “Who do you expect to show up on Sunday?”
“I expect some of the guys who got released, or maybe some independent players whose season ended and they still want a little exposure. That tournament up there gets scouted.
“Some of the guys — maybe college seniors, four-year guys that never got signed, or three-year guys that never got signed — would like to go with us, but they may have to go to school. Labor Day weekend and school might interfere with our high-caliber selected college guys.”
I say, “It seems you have at least two teams. One team goes through the regular season and at its end everybody goes back to college, and then you put together another team for the GIF.”
“That’s exactly right. The regular season is an opportunity for the younger guys to figure it out, to find out what’s going on. We’ve got veterans on the team, so I don’t have to do all the kicking-them-in-the-butt-to-do-right. We play about 60 games in about 60 days. Home and away and tournaments. If we come in first or second, it pays for our summer.
“Older guys who can’t put up with the regular season are the ones who come out for this one [GFI], and they’re good. I get guys out of Mexico, out of independent leagues, who want to go to Canada, get looked at by an international scout.”
“How many players are you taking with you?”
“I would say from 18 to 20, depends on the caliber and the amount of pitching I might need. You’re only playing five days.”
“And how many of those 18 to 20 do you think you’ll find during tryouts?”
“At this point, 12. Our tryouts test all facets. I have pitchers throw against the guys I know can really hit. If they can take care of my hitters, they can take care of the other team’s hitters. We hit ground balls to find out what a guy’s got as far as arm strength, good footwork. We hit fly balls just to make sure they have good arm strength, they know how to set up under the ball. If it’s teaching time, they’re not going to make the club. Naturally, we have live pitching for batting practice, and we spend a lot of time on hitting.”
“I assume, while you’re on the road, travel, lodging, and food is taken care of?”
Deutschman laughs, “No food. All the travel and all the lodging. They buy their own food, and especially their own alcohol.”
Want to play ball? Hie thee to sandiegostars.org for particulars.