Chico Herrera is on the right, with colleagues Sergio Garcia (left) and Javier Herrera. (Joo SoonHoo/Dodgers)
But what were the chances of the Dodgers' bat boy getting a tryout with his employer and hometown team in the first place?
Herrera literally was living the dream Thursday, when he and 124 others got to showcase their baseball skills at the Dodgers annual tryout at Camelback Ranch, the team's spring facility in Glendale, Ariz. It's the best invitation Herrera ever got. Much cooler than any fantasy camp.
Reporter Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles published a great write-up of Francisco "Chico" Herrera, a 22-year-old who has worked for the Dodgers the past four years. Players always had been impressed with Herrera's skills — notably the arm and athletic ability making catches he showed during batting practice — but it was all talk until Dodgers pitcher Jon Garland greased the skids by getting assistant GM De Jon Watson to invite Herrera to a tryout:
And Watson is happy to offer it because, well, you just never know.
"We've signed guys out of our tryout camp every year," Watson said. "Last year we found a guy throwing 97 and it was like, 'Yeah, we're going to sign him.' "
So this isn't some publicity stunt to deflect attention away from whatever embattled owner Frank McCourt has last stepped in. This isn't an attempt to get fans to buy tickets to watch the tryouts.
Nope, this is real. The best player on his team at Hollywood High and the starting shortstop at Valley College in North Hollywood was getting his shot — even if it was longer than long — at the big leagues.
"I don't know much about this kid except that Jon Garland flagged me down in the clubhouse last year," Watson said. "I've seen him down the foul lines, he makes some pretty good catches." (Such as this marvelous one last season.)
"You watch him in BP and he's out there power-shagging in the outfield. Like, 'Who is this kid?'
"So yeah, we'll take a look at him. You never know. Guys change, they mature, they grow. You never know until you take a look at him."
It would seem that, even if Herrera doesn't get signed, he was overlooked at some point in his development by Div. I college baseball and the pros. How does that happen? Herrera's high school coach, Clay Cauley, says bird dogs don't scout the inner cities much. As a result, few kids think they have a shot to go anywhere:
"The biggest problem I've seen here is that any kid with talent gives up pretty quick because they haven't seen people go on with it," Cauley said. "They aren't seeing kids around them go on to college or play in the minors; he's the first. He's the example we give to everyone who plays for us."
So this tryout is kind of a big deal, even beyond Herrera's hopes. Dodgers blog Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness (he's not really sick, it's just a classic "Simpsons" reference) gathered some neat details about the tryout at Camelback. MSTI notes that the 125 hopefuls were a record — and among them were semi-familiar names such as longtime left-hander Doug Davis, righty Wes Littlejon and Japanese righty Hiroki Sanada.
Many major leaguers were bat boys at some point, at some level of baseball, in their lives. Pitcher Jesse Litsch of the Toronto Blue Jays used to work for the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays. Steve Garvey famously was a bat boy for the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers before starring in the majors years later.
And teams find players at these tryouts. Watson reference pitcher Randy Keisler, who was throwing 97 mph before being signed. Disney made a movie about Jim Morris.
Thanks to Jon Garland, a real major leaguer, somebody else is able to take a shot at his own dream.
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- the Dodgers