MINNEAPOLIS -- Tom Solheim was in such a hurry Monday morning to chase the major-league dream, he left his glove at home.
He remembered to bring a video camera for proof he attended the Minnesota Twins' tryout camp, but the battery was dead. Solheim has only his word that the Twins would take a look at a gray-at-the-temples, 34-year-old grocer with no high-school or college baseball experience. Or maybe it was just a passing glance.
Solheim was among the 80 who showed up at the Metrodome on the fat chance that Twins minor league director Jim Rantz would sidle up to them, throw an arm around their shoulders and say, "Son, we have a contract we would like you to sign."
They were as old as 37 and from as far away as Florida. They included the realistic and the delusional.
Solheim was there on a lark, at the urging of a co-worker who failed to show up. Solheim skipped most of the workouts -- though he considered catching a few fly balls in his T-shirt -- after giving the 60-yard dash a try.
"Halfway through, I was at the point of collapse," Solheim said. "I was hearing voices. That winter wreaks havoc on you, doesn't it?"
Joe Williams said he flew from Orlando, Fla., at the urging of his agent. He said he was a high-school All-American in both football and baseball. He also said he played football at Fort Valley (Ga.) State (the school's sports publicist said he could find no record of him).
Williams said he just needed a shot.
"I know it's like, 10 to 1 or whatever, for everyone else," Williams said, greatly understating their odds. "But it's 50-50 for me."
The Twins might sign as many as three players from tryout camps in any year, or none at all. The number depends, Rantz said, more upon the number of drafted players they sign than the immensity of the talent spotted at these auditions. There are only a limited number of roster spots available on the Twins' rookie league teams at Elizabethton, Tenn., and Ft. Myers, Fla.
The Twins have been holding tryout camps since they moved to the Twin Cities in 1961, though interest is dwindling. The first camp drew about 800 players, Rantz said, and had to be held over a three-day period.
From 40 years of tryout camps, the Twins have signed three players who reached the majors. Charley Walters, now a Saint Paul Pioneer Press sports columnist, made six appearances as a pitcher in 1969. Pitcher Gary Serum (1977-79) and infielder Jerry Terrell (1973-77) were the others.
Williams was confident he would be the next.
"My athletic ability will get me in," Williams said. "Hopefully, I might find a home in Minnesota."
Williams was fast, strong-armed and, for the moment, believable.
Then he was asked his age.
"Twenty-six," he said, smiling. "But I told the Twins 22."
Bill Trombley of Brainerd, looked every bit of 35. Steve Murnane, a 37-year-old softball coach from Farmington, was the oldest player in camp, but TV reporters targeted Trombley for their soundbites. Trombley hadn't had this much TV attention, his wife said, since he was on Ricki Lake's show, explaining why he didn't like his 16-year-old niece's 36-year-old boyfriend.
Trombley, a spindly-legged right fielder, had been working out and heading to batting cages the past three weeks. He was taking the fantasy seriously.
"I'd like to be called back and go to a farm league," he said.
If called upon, would he be willing to serve?
"In a heartbeat," Trombley said.
About half of Monday's prospects were asked back for a game Tuesday, nothing more. The 30-somethings were not among them. Neither was Eric Dayton, a 21-year-old shortstop who made the 11-hour drive from Tulsa, Okla. The first grounder hit to him scooted between his legs, and soon Dayton was on his way back to Tulsa.
Williams weeded himself out in the batting cage.
He whiffed on his first five pitches from 70-year-old part-time scout Ken Staples, then popped his last two into the top of the cage.
Later, he was caught sneaking into the cage for a second at bat.
"You can't blame a guy for trying, can you?" Williams asked Twins scouts.
Not at a tryout camp.
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