By Chris Stone
When Kevin Maxey was 17, he was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers. His physical skills were good, but he was concerned about his emotional development.
“At the time, I didn’t think I was ready,” Maxey said Sunday while more than 300 other young men checked in for an Atlanta Braves open tryout at Poway High School.
“I was 17 and very young in the mind,” he said. “Physically, I think I was ready but mentally not so much, so I thought that I needed more experience and some time.”
Now 23, the outfielder was relaxed Sunday and hoping for another chance at The Show.
“It would mean everything,” said Maxey, who is getting a sports management degree at Bethesda University in Anaheim. “This is a dream that I have been chasing since I was 17.”
“Pursuing the dream” was the reason many players gave for braving 90-plus degree heat for hours of running, pitching and catching with the hopes of being noticed.It was the fourth of 11 open tryouts the Braves are conducting across the country — from Florida to Virginia and Hawaii to North Dakota. Scouts said few other major league teams hold the all-comers sessions, preferring to sign individuals they have scouted.
Area scout supervisor Dan Cox said good prospects are always spotted at the tryouts.
“Every single year there is someone who stands out,” he said.
But he added, “It’s very, very tough to be signed out of something like this, but if you stand out, we will see it.”
Cox has his eye out for “passed over (college) seniors, released former pro players, and top 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 high school players who he invited to see in their development.
A 14-year-old showed up to Sunday’s tryout, and players as old as 45 have made the attempt to be noticed by the four scouts.
Former Atlanta Braves outfielder David Justice showed up unexpectedly to share tips on how to get into the big leagues, much to the delight of the athletes.
Justice told pitchers where the pitching sweet spot is, how to get the attention of coaches and how to be a discriminating batter.
Justice told the players to have continuing contact with coaches to show their enthusiasm, to smile and be a good team player, to have discipline, so as to not swing at every pitch and to maintain confidence even when they strike out.
Eager for more tips, players crowded around the former big leaguer, who also played for the Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics.
Justice said he lived a short distance from the high school, and when he heard of the tryouts, he decided to share his wisdom.
While some players thought their chances of being chosen were slim to none, others were more hopeful.
Bobby Wright, who graduated from the College of Idaho, threw a 91 mph fastball, which got him an invitation to pitch in the scrimmage at the end of the tryout.
Wright, who played high school and college baseball, said he has pitched up to 93 mph.
If selected, “It would mean a lot, a dream come true,” Wright said, “I’d be really excited, probably shed a few tears.”
Wright, who has played ball since he was about 5, has been a shortstop and pitcher.
“I love pitching, being out on the mound,” said the 23-year-old. “Everybody’s eyes are on you and you’re the one controlling the game.
Jason Dipaolo, 20, is a former catcher from Granite Hills High School. He said he played for the school in 2014 and 2015 when it went on to the county championships.
“It would mean the world” to be selected, said the Alpine resident. “I would be competing at the highest level.” He said he’s played baseball for 15 years.
While calling his chances one in a million, he added, “I’m going to give it a shot and see if they like me.”
Ken Daplas, a senior at Bonita Vista High School, sized up the crowd. But it didn’t discourage him.
“I just love baseball and being with the Braves is one of my favorite teams, so it would be an honor to play with them,” said the outfielder and third baseman.
“My chances are pretty slim today because there’s a lot of big players here, but I’m just going to do my hardest and see what happens.”
“I’ve been playing baseball since I was 3 years old,” he said. “My dad is my inspiration because he always pushes me harder, and I never quit.”
Players who impressed scouts Sunday will be contacted for future openings.
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: