The one thing Mad Ants guard Ron Howard needs to make this baseball flirtation work is a time machine.
If he could go back and play Little League, Sandy Koufax ball, high school ball, maybe some college, then the pipe dream could have some real footing. As it stands now, well, he'll need to stick to basketball.
You can't blame the guy for trying, but reality is a harsh judge.
Despite having no formal background and, until Tuesday, no cleats, Howard took part in the San Diego Padres/Fort Wayne TinCaps' open tryout Wednesday at Parkview Field. He says it was not a publicity stunt, but rather an honest attempt to test his skills in another sport.
He shagged flies. He showed his arm in throwing from right field to third base and home. He took some cuts in the batting cage.
“Once I knew they had tryouts, I just said, 'It worked for me once, why not give it a try? What's it going to hurt?' ” Howard said. “I really enjoy baseball and have a passion and admiration for it when I'm watching it. These guys gave the public an opportunity, so I said, why not?”
Unlike a few, Howard showed up in perfect shape, toned by his always working basketball career. In fact, he made the Mad Ants at a similar open tryout. Yet while most, if not all, of the 50 other players Wednesday spent their youth concentrating on baseball, Howard is a novice. He's also 29.
Jeff Stewart, Midwest area scout for the Padres, talked with Howard after the tryout and gave him an honest assessment. He saw a great athlete. And he told him to keep working on his basketball career.
“If he was in a baseball uniform on a daily basis, his throwing would improve quickly, his fielding would improve quickly, just through repetition,” Stewart said. “But I'm not sure he would ever hit. He's (29) years old. He's well, well, well below average at this point, and that's in batting practice, seeing a ball intended for you to hit exercising a swing.
“You get in a game situation where pitchers are using varying velocity, breaking planes with curveballs, changeups, sliders – I'm not sure the learning curve would be quick enough.”
It was either Ted Williams or my Little League coach who said hitting is the toughest thing to do in all of sports.
“I would agree, especially when pitchers are pitching upward of 90 mph and here they come with curves and sliders,” Howard said.
I don't doubt that Howard could have been a strong baseball player. He's quick. He's athletic. If you've seen him dash from one end of the court to finish a fast break – especially when Walker Russell Jr. was running the point – you know his speed is incredible.
But the fact is that time doesn't allow an athlete two chances at what takes a lifetime (or at-least early lifetime) commitment to master.
Baseball is built around failure. Williams was the last Major Leaguer to hit .400 in 1941. Nineteen forty-one. That tells us plenty about the difficulty of hitting.
Howard didn't have a bad swing. You know he has strong hand-eye coordination. But he has a raw swing. Too raw for this point in his life. The Padres look for the proverbial diamond in the rough during these open tryouts. Stewart told the assembled players afterward they should keep their dreams, but at some point may have to face reality.
“I didn't come here to waste anybody's time,” Howard said. “I have some skills. In basketball, you can watch a guy and tell if a guy has fundamentals, if he has mechanics and things like that. I wanted to come and show that I do have those things, and with some work and practice I could be a positive for a team.”
Howard has some raw skills. He doesn't have the one thing that could transform those skills into a true shot at becoming a baseball player: A way to turn back time.