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FHS baseball tryouts slated for Aug. 3, 4
Coach Pharr advises freshmen to ‘just try and relax and enjoy it,’ despite pressure

Freshmen baseball players may find it a bit overwhelming when stepping foot on John Heatherly Field at Farragut High School early next month for the first time ever as potential Admirals.

A few dozen FHS wannabes will be looking to earn a spot on the Admirals’ freshman team and become the program’s future that will carry on what has become an outstanding high school baseball tradition.

Many of the young athletes showing up for the two-day FHS baseball tryout session Aug. 3 and 4 — including sophomores — can only hope to be part of the same championship glory that has earned the Admirals back-to-back Class AAA state championships and back-to-back top five national rankings at season’s end.

But how does a nervous freshman or raw sophomore prepare to prove himself in front of one of the state’s most highly-honored high school baseball coaches without feeling overwhelmed by tradition, success and the program’s high expectations?

“I think there is an intimidation factor anytime you’re a freshman, so we try to make it as easy a process as we can,” said Pharr, who was named Tennessee Sportswriters Association’s state Coach of the Year in 2003 and who has led the Admirals to a 94-3 record during the past two years. “Generally when they’re trying out, one of the things we try to do is tell them they’re going to be just trying out with the other freshmen. It’s not like they’re going to be trying out and have Tony (Delmonico, starting varsity shortstop) out there and those guys out there with ’em where they’re going to look at them and say: ‘golly, I’m not anywhere as good as them.’ So that’s one thing I think that helps. We try to make it as non-intimidating as we can as far as the atmosphere.”

The first day of tryouts starts with a message from coach Pharr. “I tell them I know it’s pressure and everything, but just try and relax and enjoy it,” the coach said. “I try to be as honest with them as I can as far as (telling them), ‘we’re looking for good ballplayers.’

“I’d tell anybody, you don’t know how good you are or how bad you are until you get out there,” he added. “We have all different talent levels, and we have guys who make it who sometimes aren’t the most talented just because of the kind of work ethic and some things you pick up on about them.”

As for how many spots are open for freshmen, “in the past the most we would keep would be fifteen,” Pharr said. “We’ve kept anywhere from twelve to fifteen freshmen in the past.” The coach estimates that in recent years he’s averaged 40 to 50 freshmen for the annual two-day tryout. Sophomores will be competing for either varsity or junior varsity roster spots.

As for the routine, “We do pretty much what you’d do if you went to a professional tryout,” Pharr said. “We’re going to run a sixty (yard dash) twice to get an idea of running speed. We’re going to grade arm strength — if they’re an infielder we’ll put ’em at shortstop, kind of in the hole, and hit some ground balls to ’em and let ’em throw the ball across to first base. And we’ll put a radar gun on that, and just try and get a good idea of their arm strength. If they’re an outfielder, we’ll put ’em in right field and let ’em throw to second and third (base).

Pitchers, we’ll let throw bullpen, or throw in a game. We may do a short game on the second day. Let’s say we’ve got eight guys who are trying out that are pitchers, we’ll give them each an inning to throw and go from there.

“Catchers we’ll do what we call ‘pop-to-pop times,’ throws from the time the ball hits the mitt to the time they get it to second base,” Pharr added. “Then we’ll take a round of BP (batting practice), we’ll let ’em hit on the field. Some of ’em will be in the field, and you can kind of watch ’em field also at that time.”

Running and the basic skills evaluations come on the first day, “and the second day we’ll probably take a round of infield and maybe let ’em hit a little bit more, and then play the game,” Pharr said.

Coach Pharr stresses that the tryout is more of an evaluation session than a teaching session. “We won’t try to coach ’em or try to teach ’em anything during that time, we’re just looking to see if we think they can play,” Pharr said. “ But we might look at a guy and I might say, ‘he’s got some strength and everything, but he’s got a little loop in his swing,’ we can fix that, so I might keep him after the tryout session just because I feel like I can do something to help him.”

Though less than 20 freshman will likely make the cut among a few dozen participants, Pharr emphasizes that there’s always a second chance.

“I try to encourage them that we’ll have tryouts again in the spring, too, if they don’t make it,” Pharr said. “We had two kids last year that I cut as freshmen who came back out as sophomores and I kept. One of ’em pitched a little bit for us last year on the varsity.”

“I try to be honest with them (telling them), ‘I mess up,’ they may be better than I think they are, and that’s why I encourage kids if they didn’t make it in this tryout, to come back out again (next spring) or come back out next year,” Pharr added. “I tell ’em all the time, it’s not an exact science and I’m trying to do the best I can. I’m sure I’ve missed some ’cause I know I’m not perfect.

“So I just encourage them to keep working, and I always tell ’em the Michael Jordan story, he got cut from the (high school) basketball team his freshman year.”

Pharr has a close friend who also wouldn’t give up.

“He got cut his freshman and sophomore years in baseball in high school, and came back out his junior year and made the team and ended up starting his senior year and ended up going to junior college and then went to Tennessee Tech,” Pharr said. “He’s a guy that didn’t give up, he just stayed with it and persevered and ended up having a good career out of it and is coaching now.”

The 2004-05 FHS baseball freshmen will likely have even more of an opportunity for playing time because this is expected to be the first time since the 2001-2002 season that FHS will have a freshmen team.

“We had (a freshmen team) my first four years, then we haven’t had it the last couple of years. We’ve kind of done that on a numbers basis, and on a coaching basis. And it’s a little bit of trouble just from the fact of finding games and stuff, but I think we are going to try and have one this year.”

During the past two seasons, “only eight to ten freshmen have been kept” because no FHS freshmen team existed, Pharr said.

“What we have done in the past is pretty much that if you’re a freshman, no matter how good you are, you generally play with the freshman team unless you’re good enough to play for the varsity,” Pharr added. “I think it makes it less intimidating if we have a freshman team.”

Recent freshman varsity starters Delmonico (shortstop in 2003) and former All-state catcher Michael McKenry (who started at third base as a freshman in 2000) are exceptions. “Those are extreme cases, just for the fact that I kind of like to keep them together, that’s their class, and especially when they’re freshman I like to keep them together,” the coach said.

Pharr, his assistants and several of the FHS varsity players will conduct the tryout, which runs from 6:30 to 9 p.m. both days.


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