By Marcus Henderson
At least 40 men showed up for the San Quentin baseball spring training tryouts. The veteran players were in rare form, demonstrating their batting and fielding skills. They showed the newcomers the proper baseball mechanics while the outside volunteers and coaches scouted the talent for the 17-man roster.
“We’re looking to improve our pitching staff,” said Elliot Smith, sponsor and general manger. “We are looking for guys with good attitudes and willing to listen.”
Last season the San Quentin All-Stars struggled from the mound, but the return of star pitcher Jeff “Dewey” Dumont after a two-year hiatus will add some stability. After the loss of pitchers John Appley and Isaiah Thompson-Bonilla in the midseason, Gary “Cool Aid” Townes stepped in to help the team to stay competitive. Now with five new recruits the team has more options to evaluate for the pitching position.
“We got some good-looking arms,” said Mike Kremer, volunteer and assistant coach. “It shows that people have been working hard on the off season. The focus for this season is we win as a team, and we lose as a team.”
Brendan Terrell, trying out for pitcher and shortstop, added, “I was up all night waiting to get out on the field — I’m juiced about this season. This program helps you get away from everything.”
Terrell and a group of other players spent more than three months preparing the field, cleaning and cutting the grass.
As the men battle for different positions from the infield to the outfield, the players were still encouraging each other even after dropped balls, over-throws and strikeouts.
“I have never seen hardball played in prison,” said Javier Wesson, trying out for centerfield. “I was at High Desert State Prison. This is a positive program. It teaches you to be social. They say as criminals we had antisocial behavior. Since coming to San Quentin I’ve been able to step out of my comfort zone.”
To test the baseball IQ of the new recruits, they were taken through drills called “situations,” where the players are given scenarios to play out. Most of the new players struggle with making the proper plays, whereas the second-year players instinctively know what to do.
“Our goal is to have the guys improve from the beginning to the end of the season,” Coach Smith said. “You can see that the young guys who came out last year, with a little experience, they are now more polished. We hope to see that same type of growth with these new guys.”
The March 4 tryouts were a prelude to see if there were enough skilled players to return to two teams or stay with one.
Either way, with the competitive nature of the outside teams coming — teams like the Twins, Sonoma Stompers, Team Mexico, the Mission from San Francisco, as well as clubs from Southern California like the Los Angeles Loves and the Santa Monica Suns — the season aims to be an exciting one.