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Showcase aims to expose talent to teams

Showcase aims to expose talent to teams

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Rob Ducey played parts of 13 seasons in the Major Leagues and two in Japan's big leagues. After two years of knocking in runs for the Nippon Ham Fighters, he wanted to resume his Major League career in 1997. But he had to start knocking on doors.

"When I came back from Japan, I couldn't get a job," said Ducey, who eventually landed with the Mariners and spent parts of five more seasons in the bigs. "It wasn't that I couldn't play anymore, but there was nothing in the system on me.

"I'd played well over there, and still couldn't find a job. Something like this really could have helped me."

"This" is a three-day mixer -- called the Professional Free Agent Showcase -- for unemployed baseball players and scouts for teams looking for talent, their matchmaker being Ducey, now a Rays scout and organizer of the event.

The inaugural PFAS is being held Tuesday-Thursday at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., but don't expect any of the long list of Major League free agents still without contracts to attend.

There will be more recognizable names among the PFAS field staff than on the field. Helping run things will be such recent big league notables as Cecil Fielder, Pat Hentgen and Heathcliff Slocomb.

"The six-year, fringe-type ballplayer," said Ducey, referring to Major League free agents, "is only as good as the year he had before, and as good as his agent. There really is no venue for them to go to, no way for them to improve their opportunity for employment."

Nor is this the place for amateur wannabes. Rather, it's for "players who wish to continue their professional baseball careers."

The 20-player roster for this inaugural PFAS includes Tim Raines Jr., Tim Battle, Pete LaForest and Nick Bierbrodt.

They all have histories in Major League organizations, and all paid a modest sum to attend the PFAS. The original registration fee of $750 was cut to $500 the past couple of weeks, perhaps in an attempt to stimulate greater enrollment.

Ducey and his associates got a late start this offseason, not putting things in motion until mid-November, giving them a handicap in trying to arrange for corporate sponsorship.

Professional Free Agent Showcase roster
Players expected to attend showcase as of Feb. 1
Player
Position
Last Org.
MLB time
Tim BattleOFNYY 2009None
Luis BautistaCCHC 2008None
Nick BierbrodtLHPTEX 20042001, '03-04
Jeff ChristyCMIN 2009None
Sheldon FulseOFWAS 2008None
Wayne HeddenRHPLAA 2004None
Kyle JacksonRHPBOS 2009None
Joe Jiannetti2BNYM 2004None
Pete LaForestCPHI 20072003, '05, '07
Javier MartinezRHPSD 2005None
Yu MiyakeRHPNoneNone
Steve MossOFSEA 2009None
Neal MusserLHPHOU 2009KC 2007-08
Josh Pressley1BBOS 2006None
Tim Raines Jr.OFKC 20092001, 2003-04
Edwin RodriguezCNoneNone
Bobby Spain3BPIT 2009None
Will StartupLHPSD 2009None
Steve StrausbaughCNYY 2009None
Aaron WidemanLHPTOR 2008None

But given the feedback the project has received, he is optimistic that sponsorship for future PFASs will allow the fee-free participation of players seeking a break.

"We had a short period of time to put this in motion, but companies understand the concept and like the idea of helping," Ducey said. "You've got to start somewhere, and there are growing pains. But that's why it's so important to get the first one out of the way."

While Ducey concedes that his project isn't currently for the Major Leaguers seeking to continue careers, he thinks it could provide the right exposure for those trying to revive careers.

There has been a lot of traffic in that department this offseason. Ben Sheets, Jay Payton, Jim Edmonds, Paul Lo Duca and Preston Wilson have been some of the headliners in re-entry mode.

Ducey thus has been amused, and somewhat perplexed, by the trend of private tryouts. Sheets, Kris Benson and Alfredo Amezaga all have done their thing in front of scouts. Left-hander Noah Lowry originally had a throwing session scheduled for Tuesday, the same day as the PFAS kickoff. Lowry postponed the workout to give himself more time to prepare for it.

"They all call them 'workouts.' We have a 'showcase.' It's just a play on words," Ducey said. "What we offer is designed for players like that. For a Wilson, it would be a chance to show teams you're swinging good. It can't hurt. It can only help you."

Many years ago, Ducey was fortunate to knock on the right doors. His showcase merely endeavors to simplify the process for today's players.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Change for a Nickel. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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