AMBLER — Two dozen aspiring baseball players gathered on top of a hill behind a small stack of bleachers adjacent to the third base dugout on a breezy afternoon at Skip Wilson Field last Friday.
While members of Temple’s baseball team leisurely ran through batting practice down on the field, an aroma of anxiety covered the collection of hopefuls on the hill like a giant wool blanket.
Some just gazed out at the diamond, their heads moving slightly as they tracked the flight of each ball.
Almost no one spoke.
About 24 players attended the baseball team’s annual open tryout last Friday, and when the hour-long session ended, fourth-year coach Rob Valli had pegged three standouts to return for Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage: pitcher Andrew Fareri-Caines, catcher Ryan Ferguson and shortstop David Bilinski.
“They were the biggest, strongest guys on the field,” said Valli, who guided the Owls to a fourth-place finish in the Atlantic Ten Conference last year with a 16-11 record (27-29 overall). That mark enabled the squad to make its first trip to the A-10 Championship since 2002.
The determining factor for making the team will depend on whether any of those three players can have an impact on the roster, Valli said.
The tryout consisted of a 60-yard dash, outfield and infield drills involving catching and throwing and batting practice. Valli said he and the rest of his coaching staff judged the players on five tools: foot speed, arm strength, defense, hitting for average and hitting for power.
Bilinski, a freshman from Saint Pius X High School in Pottstown, Pa., possessed one of those tools – foot speed. He finished the 60-yard dash in 6.9 seconds.
“That’s above-average for us,” Valli said of Bilinski’s time. “And that’s the hardest one to teach. You can’t teach speed. So he might be a guy who could develop.”
Bilinski, who wore an Atlanta Braves hat with a white shirt and white pants to the tryout, was the only player to hit a home run in batting practice. After driving a couple of pitches to the warning track, the right-hander stroked one over the left field wall in the first of his two sessions in the cage.
“I didn’t even know. They told me when I came out that, ‘You hit one out,’” said Bilinski, who plays for the Northeast Philly Twins in the Philadelphia Fall Baseball League. “It felt good, but I didn’t follow it out into the field so I didn’t know whether it went out or not.”
The other two players selected to return, Ferguson and Fareri-Caines, weren’t unknowns to Valli, who said he knew that “they were good high school players.”
Fareri-Caines played at the Girard Academic Music Program, a public magnet school at 22nd and Ritner streets. He also played at Penn State-Abington last spring.
Ferguson starred at Garnet Valley High School and previously attended Bloomsburg University.
One of the advantages of the open tryout is the Owls’ coaching staff gets to see players like Ferguson in action.
“We just didn’t get a chance to see him in high school,” Valli said about Ferguson. “He’s a big, strong left-handed hitting catcher.”
Like Fareri-Caines and Ferguson, sophomore Craig Morrison transferred to Temple, previously attending and playing baseball at Delaware County Community College.
Wearing a Toronto Blue Jays hat and a dark blue form-fitting shirt, Morrison tried out for multiple positions, including third base.
“I know I could’ve done a lot better,” Morrison said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
The other 20 hopefuls who didn’t receive a phone call from the coaches Friday night had their hopes end once they stuffed their gloves and bats back into their duffel bags and filed out of the stadium.
As the saying goes, there’s always next year.
Tyson McCloud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.