Dozens show up for Camden baseball team's open tryout

Efrain Gomez gets a throw from first base as others wait their turn at second base. The open tryouts are a preseason ritual for the Riversharks, who are in the independent Atlantic League.
Efrain Gomez gets a throw from first base as others wait their turn at second base. The open tryouts are a preseason ritual for the Riversharks, who are in the independent Atlantic League. (Efrain Gomez gets a throw)
Posted: April 08, 2012

The crack of wooden bats and the thwock of leather gloves sounded early on Saturday at Campbell's Field, home of the Camden Riversharks.

The team's 12th annual open tryout brought more than 100 hopefuls to the diamond under the Ben Franklin Bridge before 8 a.m. Everyone was there to have a good time, but some took the event more seriously than others.

Zeke Boren, 29, stood to the side of the infield and sized up his competition with quiet confidence. The Moorestown native has played the game nearly his entire life.

"I haven't missed a season since T-ball," Boren said, grinning.

After honing his skills at Moorestown High School and Delaware Valley College, the pitcher moved west to pursue a pro career with the North American Baseball League, logging one season each with the Golden Baseball League and Arizona Winter League.

Tired of the quality of play he encountered, Boren came back to New Jersey in 2008. But his hiatus wasn't long.

Boren competes in a South Jersey adult league and works as a private coach, teaching the mechanics of pitching in an attempt to help players avoid injury.

"Everyone has the dream to play," he said, watching dozens of hopeful fielders do 60-yard sprints. "If you love the game, you're always going to keep playing."

A majority of those who paid the $50 fee to show the Riversharks' general manager and three coaches their stuff had sincere hopes of gaining a spot on the team's roster. The organization has accepted four players over the last three years from open tryouts.

Teams such as the Riversharks, in the independent Atlantic League, offer players the chance to be scouted by the big leagues. Five players from the club have gone on to the majors in recent years, though all had previous pro experience.

"It's fun to give everyone a chance to live out their dream," said Adam Lorber, the general manager. "Once in a while we do find someone."

It can be a difficult life even for those who get signed. The salary cap in the Atlantic League is $3,000 a month, forcing many players to take part-time jobs to supplement their incomes.

The entrance fee charged by the Riversharks was meant to discourage those not intent on joining the team, according to a Riversharks spokeswoman.

But that didn't stop brothers Wayne and David Videon. Wayne, 49, of West Chester, and David, 65, of Newtown Square, try out every year, they said, just for kicks.

The practice was intense and the coaches expected everyone to play competitively. David Videon found that out firsthand when he had to pull up from the 60-yard dash with a strained calf. But he still had a smile on his face.

Almost everyone appeared happy, even when they bobbled grounders or missed the cutoff man by a mile. The warm sun seemed to lift the spirits of those on the field and in the stands, including friends and family who had come for moral support.

The tryouts are part of the Riversharks' preseason ritual. The team's training camp is set to start April 16 at Campbell's Field, with the home opener May 9.

"We're a community team," Lorber said. "It's neat to have someone local who has a chance of making it."

Currently, two members of the Riversharks are local: pitcher Mike McGuire, from Drexel Hill, and catcher Shea Harris, of Washington Township.

At the end of the tryouts, Lorber expressed interest in two outfielders and an infielder.

"There were three players we're going to speak to. We may invite them to spring training and work them out a little longer," he said.

Everyone in the organization looks forward to this type of event, Lorber said.

"Not every team in our league does this. It's something that I think is an important part of our business," he said.

"It's fun just to come and try out," Boren said as he waited near the bullpen for his turn to pitch. "It's a good way to spend a Saturday morning."

Boren knows that he can make it in the league if he's given a chance, he said. He's just waiting for a team to give him that call.


Contact Kevin Smith

at smithk@philly.com.

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