Jonathan Storke had heard all the stories about professional baseball. Stories about the rigors of playing and long bus trips in the minors. Stories of the very few talented, sometimes lucky, players who actually get their chance to play in the glitter of the majors. And he heard stories about being at the right place at the right time.
Storke, a 1996 Douglas High School graduate who signed a free agent contract with the Baltimore Orioles organization in 1998, enjoyed nearly two full seasons in the minors, and he still believes he has the right stuff to play at the major league level.
As he sat looking out over Lampe Park in his hometown Gardnerville on this Sunday morning, however, he admitted that the key remains being in the right place at the right time.
"I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time," said Storke, who was released by the Orioles in spring training this year. "That's what happens. You've got to take the chance. I lived my dream a little bit, I got to play pro ball, and I've been dreaming that since I was a little kid.
"And you never know. If you get on with another team, you could go all the way. There are guys out there who have made it when they get the chance."
Storke has spent a summer away from baseball in the meantime, working construction for his former coach at Douglas, Larry Silveira. This fall, he will finish up work on his degree and work as an assistant baseball coach at Sonoma State University.
Storke has made the rounds during his baseball-playing days. Drafted by the Colorado Rockies after his graduation from Douglas, Storke passed on pro ball and went on to play one season at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, Calif., then was drafted again, this time by the San Francisco Giants. He passed on the Giants and transferred to Pima College in Tucson, Ariz., where he played one season before signing with Division I Fresno State. After one season at Fresno, Storke signed as a free agent with the Orioles.
Looking back, Storke expressed no regrets about the decision to pass up his senior year at Fresno.
"You can't look back on it and say, 'You know what, I should have played one more year.' You never know, I could have gone back and broke my knee or done something worse," said Storke, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound shortstop/third baseman. "Playing in the minors, that was everything I thought and everything I heard it would be. It was a blast. Even though it was only 1, 2 years, it was probably the best 1, 2 years I've had."
Storke played Class A and AA ball during the 1999 season, and felt as though he had enhanced his professional chances during spring training in March.
"It was awesome. I got down there and the ball just looked like a watermelon. I was amazing myself how well I was playing," Storke said. "Being released was the last thing on my mind. But I understand how it works. There was a first-round guy and me playing, and they're going to keep him. It's more of a money investment, actually. If they have a lot of money invested in you, you're going to stick around for a while.
Storke is disappointed about being released into baseball limbo. But not discouraged.
"I was when it first happened," Storke said. "The first month was kind of rough on me. It was disappointing and I was questioning whether I really have what it takes. But I felt better after working out down in Los Angeles with my hitting coach, Craig Wallenbrock, and my agent, Jim McDowell, who is Jack McDowell's brother.
"They told me guys in this business get released and they get picked back up by another team and they make it all the way. It's a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Now, we're just looking for some teams that will give me a chance to play and see if I have what it takes to make it."
If all goes well, Storke hopes to have a team lined up to try out with before spring training starts next year. In the meantime, Sonoma State awaits.
"I've got a full year left to get my degree," Storke said. "I'll get a semester done, go to spring training and then come back and have a semester left. If pro ball doesn't work out, this will keep me involved in baseball. What I want to do is teach in college and coach college ball in college."
Storke, who is carrying a sociology major and kinesiology minor (he earned WAC scholar/athlete honors at Fresno State), will join the Sonoma State program this fall along with another Douglas product, freshman pitcher Jared Silveira.
Jared Silveira's father, Larry, coached Storke at Douglas. And his grandfather, Louis Silveira, played a role in Storke realizing his pro ball dream.
"Louis is a scout for Orioles. He wasn't the one who signed me, but he's the one who kind of got everything kick-started for me as far as getting the word out about me," Storke said.
"There have been a lot of people I want to thank because they have supported me: Jim (McDowell) and Craig (Wallenbrock), and of course, my parents (Gary and Sandy) always supported me and went to watch me play no matter where I was."
The next eight months will pretty much determine which direction Storke's baseball career will take. Either way, he remains enthused about the prospects.
"I'm young. I've seen a lot of 24-, 25-year-old guys still in A ball who aren't moving up, and I don't want to do that" Storke said. "If I know I'm going to move up, that's fine. But if I'm going to stay in one place, I'd rather get out. There's got to be a point where you know whether you're going to stay in or get out.
"There are some doors that are open still. I'm not looking down on life. I'm going to give myself one more chance at pro ball and see how it works out. If not, then I'll get on with my life and I'll go coach and teach."