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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
San Diego Padres scout Jeff Stewart, left, gives final words of advice to players after their open tryouts at Parkview Field on Wednesday. About 70 hopefuls were on hand to perform for scouts.

Taking a shot at a dream

Mad Ants player among those at Padres’ tryout

Steve Warden | The Journal Gazette
Ron Howard, the Mad Ants’ all-time leading scorer, was among the hopefuls on hand.
Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Derek McKinney of Peru pitches from the left-field bullpen Wednesday at Parkview Field. Behind the screen is Padres scout Jeff Stewart.

– Except for the plain, white T-shirt, Ron Howard was a logo cornucopia in his blue, Nike basketball shorts, black NBA socks and black baseball spikes with MLB on the heel.

Yes, the Mad Ants’ Ron Howard, and yes, baseball spikes.

The all-time leading scorer in Ants history and a member of the Fort Wayne D-League team all five years of operation stepped out of his comfort zone and away from his winter season to shag ground balls on the green, right-field grass of Parkview Field Wednesday morning during the annual open tryout hosted by the TinCaps’ parent club, the San Diego Padres.

At 29, he was one of the oldest of 45 position players hoping to make an impression to scouts Jeff Stewart and Mark Conner. At 6-feet-5, he was one of the tallest. And having been among the final players released by the Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks, he had the best cross-over dribble in the house.

Morning sweat rolled down his face after taking five ground balls and throwing them into the infield – three to third and two to home.

“I underestimated how far it was, catching the ball here and throwing it there,” Howard said once his turn was completed.

No, he isn’t trying to re-enact the Great Michael Jordan Experiment of 1994, when the former NBA all-star retired from basketball to play a season of minor league baseball in Birmingham, Ala. Just as Jordan returned to hoops, Howard will do the same. It’s just that he wanted to give this baseball thing a go, even though he admits he has never played an inning of an organized game – even Little League in his hometown of Chicago.

Since the Mad Ants’ season ended in April, Howard says he “has a guy” who has been helping him with baseball fundamentals. That’s when he bought a glove and the black MLB spikes.

So he came early and sat with the other hopefuls and was outfielder No. 717 on the 4-by-6 card that he gave Conner, who jotted down notes while Stewart hit baseballs into right field.

Then less than an hour later, he took five, solid whacks inside the batting cage, a couple that were line drives into center field.

“I’m not doing this to waste anyone’s time,” Howard said. “I definitely need work. I’m not saying I should be in the major leagues, but working hard, with anything, I think I can be a useful player on a team.”

That remains to be seen.

While addressing the hopefuls assembled in the right-field stands, Stewart said, “Please trust us in our ability to evaluate your tools.”

Howard’s primary tool? “Speed,” he said. But that wasn’t part of Wednesday’s skills test.

“I can catch well; and just being athletic,” Howard said.

“I’m learning just how far these throws are that these guys make when we watch baseball games. It seems so easy. They make it look so easy. I’m learning that it’s not as easy as it looks, just as it is with anything.”