To Hit, To Pitch, Ah, That is the Question

VERO BEACH, Florida- As the 2004 baseball season unfolded in Pennsylvania, Coach John Bell of Lewistown Area High saw that there was a problem. He had, he felt, a very special player, one who was threatening most of the school's batting records and who was capable on the mound as well. The problem, though, was that scouts didn't find their way to see him play.

Lewistown is located in the valley of the Susquehanna River in the North Central part of the state, not an area known for producing a lot of talent. So, the scouts were scouring elsewhere. Bell felt he had the solution. He started a website chronicalling the exploits of Kalen Gearhart.

"I was playing in an All-Star game and didn't know about it until I got home," Gearhart relates now. It seemed to work for soon there were about five scouts at every game. One was Lewistown's own Charley "Tim" Thompson.

Oldtime Dodger fans might remember him if only vaguely. He was a catcher with excellent minor league credentials who had the misfortune of coming up when Roy Campanella ruled the catching world with Rube Walker as his caddy. Tim spent awhile as a third-stringer before the Dodgers took mercy on him and dealt him to Kansas City.

After his playing days, Thompson became a scout, working for a number of teams including two separate stints with the Dodgers. Now, he's with the Orioles and as such came back to his hometown to see Gearhart, whom he asked, "Do you want to play a position or pitch?"

Gearhart didn't really know how to answer that -- all he wanted was a chance. When the season ended, he had hit .511 and made first team All-State. And then waited on the June draft.

And waited for no one called out his name. Not the Orioles or any other team.. But soon after the draft concluded, the phone did ring. It was Clair Rierson, who scouts that area for the Dodgers who he told Kalen he liked what he saw and wanted to sign him- as a pitcher.

For Gearhart, who had been thinking that it was his batting prowess that would earn him a job as a pro, the news was rather stunning. Still, he wanted the chance so signed with L.A. and reported to the Gulf Coast League to become fulltime on the mound.

George Culver, the coach with the Dodger entry in that league, began tutoring him. More and more, Gearhart got into games in relief and fared well. When the season was over, he had gone 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA. In 33.1 innings, he walked only seven while striking out 22. Clearly, Rierson had seen the potential in the right area.

Now, he's a fulltime moundsman. At least, he is when he's pitching because a sore arm has limited his appearances this spring. He's content in the role although the other day when someone mentioned another player who had been switched to fulltime pitching but had gone back to the field when tendinitis kept him from throwing hard. The injury kept him from any chance of immediate advancment so he's currently with the extended spring group.

"I wonder if they'd do that with me if my arm is slow coming around?" Gearhart mused aloud. Ah, the desire to swing a bat dies hard. Still, the feeling of being out there with the game in his hands is a heady one, too. Most of all, he's just glad he's a pro. For that, he gives everlasting thanks to a coach who really cared.