The first week of scheduled games for the Lewisville Lizards was rained out, and the players were happy to finally get the season started last week.
After all, a chance at a baseball career for some of them could be at stake.
The first-year Continental Baseball League (CBL) not only touts its affordability to draw the community to its games, it also hopes to be a springboard to professional baseball for players who had hoped to reach the big leagues at one point but were never able to reach that mark.
Among the Lizards seeking to take advantage of that are three players with local ties. First baseman Jesse Longoria graduated from Lewisville High School in 1999. Pitcher Glenn Green is a 2003 Lewisville graduate who also made the team, and pitcher Justin Wilcher graduated from Denton in 1997 but grew up in Lewisville.
While their goal of getting noticed by pro scouts is the same, their paths to get to the CBL are different.
Longoria's quest to play professionally began after graduating from Lewisville when he attended Grayson College and then Brookhaven College to play baseball. He then transferred to Eastern Oregon University, where he played from 2002 to 2004. But like many players, Longoria was overlooked when the scouts came to games, which wasn't that often.
"It wasn't a stat reason," Longoria said. "We played in a good conference, but it was weaker than some of the others. A lot of times, scouts didn't see what I had, or maybe teams didn't have a need for the position I was playing at the time."
But Longoria still put up big numbers for the two schools he played for. At Brookhaven, he was an all-conference selection during his freshman and sophomore seasons, and as a freshman, he hit .464, which broke the school record. He followed that up with a .428 average as a sophomore before moving on to Eastern Oregon.
As a senior, he hit .500 in limited playing time, which was a result of an eligibility mix-up. In 84 at-bats, he still connected on eight home runs and was named the Cascade Conference's Player of the Week twice.
After college, he played in various summer leagues and also began working as a teacher's aid at Lewisville Learning Center, where he was when the Lizards came calling. At first, manager Tom Goodwin asked him to be the director of a youth clinic. Longoria, who was an all-state catcher at Lewisville, said he wanted to play.
Through the first five games of the season, Longoria is hitting .318 (7-for-22) with four RBIs and four runs scored.
He will be joined by Green, another former Farmer. Green was an all-district outfielder as a junior for Lewisville and an all-district pitcher as a senior. Once he got to college, though, he admits that going to class wasn’t his biggest priority, and he never got a consistent thing going with college baseball because of eligibility.
“A lot of guys have situations that brought them to this league,” Green said. “So I’m looking for a second chance, as well as a way to get my foot in the door.”
Green was set to try his hand at a summer league in North Carolina, but once teammate and former Marcus player Cory Press told him about the Lizards, he decided to stay in town to play.
In two appearances this season, Green has pitched 3 1/3 innings of relief, allowing three earned runs on five hits with one strikeout and no walks.
“I’m hoping to move on and get to the next level,” Green said. “Whatever that is.”
Wilcher also returns to his hometown in hopes of getting noticed by scouts. It’s happened before as he was a Spring Training invitee to the Kansas City Royals’ camp and a winter camp participant for the San Diego Padres after his collegiate days were over. He pitched at Brookhaven College and Garden City Junior College in southwest Kansas before playing for the University of Kansas in 2001. But the camps never led to his biggest goal.
“It’s tough to make,” said Wilcher, who is also the team’s general manager. “It’s not easy to make the major leagues. Maybe it wasn’t my calling at the time. But I’ve always had a goal to reach those expectations and to be around baseball again. It’s been a big part of my life.”
At Garden City, he was a second-team all-conference player, and in 1999, he was part of the national champion Dallas Phillies select team.
Now Lewisville is the next stop for Wilcher. He made the start in Friday’s game and got the win over Texas Heat after pitching five innings. He allowed one run on four hits while striking out one and walking two.
The Lizards continue their season Thursday with a weekend six-game series against the Tarrant County Blue Thunder at Cross Timbers Park in North Richland Hills. They return home June 15 to play a five-game series against the Bay Area Toros.
In all, the Lizards will play 60 games, but the players hope that in the end, they will be one step closer to getting to a place that eluded them previously.
“I’m hoping to get some looks and get an opportunity to get picked up,” Longoria said. “I’m not looking for a big contract, just a chance to play in the minors. I want to show what I have, not what I had.”