He may not have made the final cut, but Escalon resident Jerry Emery got a sneak peek into a day in the life of a ballplayer just the same.
He recently took part in a San Francisco Giants ‘Ball Dude’ tryout, hoping to earn a spot down the first or third base line at AT&T Park to gobble up ground balls that are hit into foul territory.
“I just got online and looked up the community programs,” Emery said of how he got signed up to participate in the training clinic.
Wearing a Giants jersey with No. 9 on his back, Emery joined the other Ball Dude and Ball Dudette hopefuls for a day on the field. He had the jersey, with the number of former Giants third baseman Matt Williams, in his own personal collection.
“I played a lot of third base,” Emery said of his ball playing career. “I played lots of baseball growing up through college and then lots of softball in college.”
After checking in at AT&T, Emery said the men in the group were led to the visitors’ locker room to change and the women changed there after they were finished.
“We went out onto the field through the visitors’ dugout and had lunch in the Giants’ dugout,” Emery said.
Once lunch was over and the group went through about 10 minutes of warm ups, they started the clinic in earnest.
Emery said there were about two dozen prospective ball dudes, broken up into three groups.
“The groups rotated between a half-hour each of batting practice, shagging fly balls in the outfield, and fielding ground balls at second base,” he explained. “The last session was fielding two ground balls from the Ball Dude stool next to first base.”
The competitors also had the chance to visit with and get some tips from former players, with Rich Murray hitting the ground balls and Bill Laskey sending the fly balls to the outfield.
Funds generated through the tryouts – as most hopefuls make a donation to take part – support the Junior Giants program, which helps needy youngsters get equipment to play the sport.
“Being one of my ‘bucket list’ items, I was only too happy to make a donation to the Junior Giants organization for my participation,” he said.
Emery added it was definitely something he enjoyed doing, but it did come with a few unexpected twists.
“I was surprised mostly by the hardness of the infield make up,” he admitted. “Balls that bounced high stayed high. Balls that sped low sped up, and it’s like a top spin coming off it, they’re coming at you pretty good.”
He said major leaguers who make fielding look effortless are used to dealing with the rock hard infield on a regular basis, but he had to do some adjusting to gauge the speed and bounce.
“It’s hard clay with a light dusting of decomposed granite over the top,” Emery said of the infield at AT&T.
During his turn down the first base line, Emery made the most of the opportunity.
“I fielded the first one cleanly and on the second one, it was a low sinking line drive to my right, I got down low (to snare the grounder), and got a nice round of applause from the other ball dudes,” Emery explained, noting that the second one narrowly missed hitting their coach for the session. “I also got a fist bump from Lackey, I saved his bacon.”
After the experience, Emery added, the 10 or so representatives from the Giants selected one camp participant to be a Ball Dude for one game this year.
“More games in future years are possible for this person. We went back into the visitors’ clubhouse to change again. All the Giants personnel were very cordial and helpful,” said Emery.
When the program started in 1993, enrollees had to be at least 60 years of age. It is now open to both sexes and there is no starting age limit.
“The last game my wife and I attended, I asked Mrs. Belt, Mrs. Bumgarner, and Mrs. Vogelsong to autograph a poster that read, ‘Gamer Babe and Wannabe Ball Dude’ in an effort to stand out a little at the tryout,” Emery explained.
And though his major league dream ended with the day, he is happy he gave it a shot.
“One and done,” he said, explaining that he won’t go back for another tryout. “I was sore for two, three days afterward. Quite honestly I slept in my chair the first two nights, even my toenails and fingernails hurt.
“But I had a good time, it was on the bucket list, and I got it done.”