In August 2019, the Portland Pickles held open tryouts and one player got the chance to live out their baseball fantasy.
For the winner, it was a chance to suit up in an international matchup in Mazatlán, Mexico. It was like a scene out of the film “The Rookie,” starring Dennis Quaid.
The night of tryouts was rainy, and more than 100 players ages 13-50 showed up to the ballpark with their cleats, water bottles and dreams for the chance to compete for this rare opportunity. Alan Miller, one of the owners of the Portland Pickles, came across the idea earlier in the 2019 season when the Pickles hosted a Mazatlán-themed baseball night to recognize their sister city team.
“Our goal in off-season is to create friendship teams around the world,” Miller said.
The tryout was a long process. After sign-ups, the team would interview players, who would then make their way down to the field. Coaches evaluated the talent on everything from hitting balls in batting practice to catching balls in the infield.
Players like Mark Triolo filtered into the stadium. Triolo wasn’t even sure he’d make the tryouts. He is a former college baseball player who played at the University of Portland and San Diego State. He plays for the Bridgetown Thunder, an adult league team in Portland that meets up in the summer. A baseball buddy texted him about the tryout. It was scheduled on a Wednesday night. Triolo, a respiratory therapist who works at Providence Portland, worked on Wednesdays.
“I’m still in scrubs, I stepped out of the hospital, get in the car and show up to Walker Stadium in scrubs and baseball gear. Everyone’s looking at me like who’s this tall skinny guy in scrubs?“ Triolo said. “I checked in with the Pickles management and they said, ‘You just made it in time.‘”
He hustled to change into his gear and get loose. Triolo took a few swings in batting practice and then headed to the bullpen to throw some pitches. He gave the tryout his all, but it was soon over and Triolo went home.
A week later, Triolo was back at work. He hadn’t heard anything, but then received an email from Pickles management.
“I got an email from Ross Campbell, the Pickles general manager,” Triolo said. “He said that they needed to meet with me and [asked] if I could come back to Walker Stadium.”
When he returned to the stadium, team officials said that Dillon — the team’s 7-foot gherkin mascot — wanted to talk to Triolo. Once on the field, the oversize pickle handed Triolo a team hat and a player contract signaling that he had won the tryouts.
“I was ecstatic. It was very exciting to have this opportunity. I thought it’d be great,” Triolo said. “The second emotion I had was stress because our September was going to be crazy with my wedding, honeymoon, family trip and bachelor party. Of all the things to do in September.”
Ultimately, Triolo made the schedule work.
The Pickles traveled to Mazatlán to play the Mazatlán Venados in October. They were treated like baseball royalty, Triolo said. A welcoming committee greeted them at the airport and they took an extravagant tour of the city — even a parade. Prior to the game, the Pickles had announced that a few of the junior Venados players would play with them on the field.
Triolo was the starting pitcher and designated hitter. He gave up two runs in just over three innings. He gave his performance a “solid B” for a grade. For Triolo, the experience was completely unexpected and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
“For me this is happening at 32. My wife jokes I’m like the ‘Rookie,‘” he said. “Not sure if I’m quite there in terms of talent, but to be this old and get a call from the Pickles ... it feels pretty special.”