TROY — On the day after Willie Mays turned 90, I was pulled through the main gate at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium — “The Joe” — to “Only the Good Die Young” by Billy Joel over the public address.
Like a perfectly executed triple play, the sky, the grass and the dirt each did their best sky-grass-dirt thing, so that 50 ballplayers could do theirs.
The Tri-City ValleyCats held an open tryout on Friday morning that was much more “open” than “tryout,” pretty much all but one of the players without much of a shot at actually making spring training, which starts next Thursday.
Nevertheless, it was good to be here, no matter who you were.
There was even a loose scattering of spectators, not counting a few feathery, upturned cirrus clouds way up there, like giant, ungroomed old-man eyebrows (mercifully, “Cotton Eye Joe” never made the PA set list, at least not to these ears).
After a tumultuous winter in which Major League Baseball took over the minors and jettisoned 43 previously affiliated franchises, including the ValleyCats, the team is embarking on its first season with the independent Frontier League. The ValleyCats open on the road on May 27 and will play their first game at The Joe on June 4.
Friday’s tryout offered the team an opportunity to get the publicity ball rolling a little bit, while offering a variety of players arriving from a variety of angles an opportunity to pull whatever they could out of an event that didn’t promise anything other than to just play ball for one stellar morning. That seemed like plenty enough.
“Baseball is something that I love, and this is the place where I feel alive,” outfielder Emilio King said. “I’ve been playing baseball since I was, like, 5. The baseball field was my backyard. I’ve been trying to reconnect, to have a normal life, but it’s really hard for me.”
The 32-year-old King is a native of the baseball-mad Dominican Republic who played for the ValleyCats in 2012 and is looking for one more shot at pro ball, even if it’s at the lowest level.
Based on his ValleyCats experience, he was the one player on Friday with an outside chance to be on the roster. He uses the word “opportunity” a lot.
On the other hand, 20-year-old Brady Myles, a sophomore at Fairfield University who starred at Fonda-Fultonville High, won’t be on the roster, and had no intention to be, since he’d lose his NCAA eligibility.
He isn’t playing for Fairfield this season because of a COVID-19-induced backlog of older players using their extra year, but he has been keeping track of the Stags, who had a 27-game winning streak stopped by Siena on Sunday.
“I went out and watched them play,” Myles said. “They looked great. And I was wishing … wishing to play with them.
“But this is the next best thing.”
Myles and King occupy opposite ends of the spectrum of players who were at The Joe, including one with a sweet Montreal Expos jersey-cap combo, several players from the New York metro area and a few in UAlbany and College of Saint Rose gear. There were a couple New Jersey plates in the lot.
Most Frontier League players make between $600 to $1,600 a month.
There was a different kind of reward for these guys.
“I absolutely loved it,” Myles said. “Ever since I signed up for this, I’ve been so excited to get back out. Right now, I’m looking for [summer league] teams to play on.
“This spring, Fairfield had 41 kids for 26 roster spots. But they did really well, so good for them. I got a little bit of FOMO [fear of missing out] watching them do so well. But it’s great to get back out there.”
Myles, who is majoring in business analytics, played club ball at Fairfield as a freshman, and walked onto the Stags’ rowing team — you read that correctly — to stay in shape.
“Much tougher than I thought,” he said. “It’s a weird duality. Very team-oriented, but at the same time, it’s accountable to you, to train. The erg [ergometer] is one man, one mind. You’re in your head.”
The righty threw in the bullpen, got in some hitting, then shagged flies in the outfield.
The tryout began with 15 minutes of stretching, followed by 60-yard dashes, two at a time, and skill drills, like throws from right-center to third base, and grounders to the infielders for throws to first, some of which were just a bit outside. The F-bombs folded seamlessly into casual conversation.
Myles said he felt like he performed well, but was disappointed he didn’t get to field, while waiting in the bullpen for his turn to pitch.
“He wants to play baseball, OK?,” said Myles’ grinning father, Bill, who was at the tryout with his camera and wearing a maroon Fonda Braves hoodie. “He came home, and last night, his brother, Zenmatsu, who plays for Fonda, they beat Johnstown 22-3, and he’s at the game and is like, ‘Ugh, I want to play baseball.'”
When he was done on Friday, Brady Myles relaxed with his chin resting on his arms folded on the top of the dugout fence, his glove still on his hand.
“If today got rained out, it would’ve been moved to tomorrow, and I have a final at that time, so I wouldn’t have been able to come out here to play. But thankfully, we got a beautiful day,” he said, raising his hand and looking up into the sun. “So we got to do it on time, and now I’m going to go catch a train and get back to Fairfield.”
You see, besides the Saturday morning final in his religion course, he also had a 5 p.m. Friday deadline for a history paper, the topic of which is comparing and contrasting Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech with some of Barack Obama’s speeches on race.
Meanwhile, if Emilio King doesn’t make the ValleyCats spring training roster, he has his construction business in Massachusetts.
“Show the best of what I have, and do the best that I can. I’ve been preparing for the last three years for one opportunity, if they give me this opportunity,” he said. “It  was really nice. It was a special year for me. This city and this team gave me an opportunity to see life in a different way. And I take this opportunity to say thank you to the fans and to the people on the field.
“I’ve been preparing really hard. I built a batting cage in my garage, so I’ve been working with my wife, making, like, 100, 150 swings daily, throwing 100-plus baseballs.”
One person on the field for the tryout who is guaranteed a job with the ValleyCats on opening day is Dan Carubia.
He’s been an usher at The Joe for 14 years — minus the pandemic-canceled 2020 — and couldn’t resist the urge to stop by and watch the workout from the dirt along the fence in front of the dugout.
“Some people passed away. There’s one seat in the season ticket holder section that they’re going to leave empty,” he said, pointing into the stands behind home plate. “I know a lot of the people here, or at least their faces, and it’s a neighborhood.”
Before the tryout started, new ValleyCats manager Pete Incaviglia — yes, that Pete Incaviglia (could there be another?) — stood on top of the dugout and addressed the players sitting in the stands.
“If you’ve never done one of these before and don’t know what’s expected of you … just be yourself,” he said.
For Emilio King, that meant somebody still trying to play pro ball:
“I’ve been doing my best, so let’s see what happens.”
For Dan Carubia, that meant somebody looking forward to returning to a job where “they’re all family”:
“A good usher never leaves home without his Sham-Wow.”
For Brady Myles, that meant somebody just looking to rifle a few into the catcher’s mitt, to rip a liner over the infield, before he had to get on that train back to school:
“I felt like I did really well. I had a good conversation with the pitching coach. Unfortunately, I got stuck in the bullpen, so I didn’t get to come out and do any infield-outfield stuff, but I did get to bat, and I felt really good doing it.
“Yeah, overall, good day.”
More from The Daily Gazette: