As Trevor Kirk parked cars at the M Resort last summer and into the fall, he was surprised by how many visitors came from Washington, D.C. And it seemed like every one of them was a Washington Nationals fan.
He was regularly pelted with the same inquiries:
Hey! Harper’s college is around here, right? Do you know him?
Kirk would nod and tell them that he’d known Bryce Harper, the 20-year-old Nationals star, for most of his life, and that he’d played with him at the College of Southern Nevada in 2010, when the Coyotes nearly won a national title and Harper built himself into the top pick in that year’s Major League Baseball draft.
“You could see them thinking, ‘OK, Joe Schmo. You know him?’”
Kirk was making $9.25 an hour, and about a hundred bucks in tips per shift. Harper, as a rookie with a year of minor-league experience, was working three miles from the White House and making $100,000 more than the President of the United States. Harper also received $1.25 million, the third of five signing-bonus installments, on July 1. (As Babe Ruth once said about a similar edge over Herbert Hoover, “I had a better year.”)
When co-workers didn’t believe Kirk, he led them to the M employees’ entryway and pointed to a trophy case in the bowels of the resort. There he was, in a large framed photograph of that CSN team. (M founder Anthony Marnell III is an ardent supporter of former CSN manager and current UNLV coach Tim Chambers, for whom Marnell played shortstop at Bishop Gorman High School.)
At the bottom, to the right, is a baseball signed by every Coyote. Kirk would point to his signature on the side. Alongside that ball was another bearing a single autograph—Bryce Harper’s—in the sweet spot, the narrow corridor of stitches opposite the label. His teammates always left that precious five centimeters of space for the then-17-year-old phenom.
“It’s wild,” Kirk says. “Now he’s an All-Star, doing well at the highest level of the game. It’s really cool. Except, he [rarely] texts me. I’ll kick him in the dick next time I see him.”
Kirk embodies the dichotomy of that CSN team. The Coyotes knew the baseball gods had long ago sprinkled stardust on one of them. The rest knew magnificent odds were stacked against them ever stepping onto a major league diamond. In 2010, The Other Guys were along for the ride.
Late last April, legendary announcer Vin Scully narrated Bryce Harper’s major league debut at Dodger Stadium. As the season unfolded, the 19-year-old infused the Nationals with guts, guile, power and enthusiasm. He stole home. He populated SportsCenter with spectacular plays. He distracted the nation’s capital during a bitter election season. He batted .270 and smacked 22 home runs—two shy of Tony Conigliaro’s teenage record—and won the National League Rookie of the Year award.
By the time Harper left Las Vegas for Florida in mid-February for his third spring training, many of his former CSN teammates were already out of organized baseball, grinding for paychecks by waiting tables, baling hay or parking cars. One had just dodged a lengthy prison term. Another had failed to revive a dead man.
“I thought more of us would still be playing,” says former CSN second baseman Scott Dysinger, a parking valet at Red Rock Resort who just started another gig as a server’s assistant at Encore Beach Club. “But it is what it is. Stuff happens. Now we’re all moving toward other things in life.”
Some of those Coyotes signed with major league franchises straight out of CSN and are chasing the dream in Harper’s wake. But they’re taking the usual slow route through the minors—unglamorous, uncertain and full of long trips on marginally reliable buses.
Last season Aaron Kurcz, CSN’s former flame-throwing closer, was transferred from Chicago to Boston as final compensation for the Red Sox losing general manager Theo Epstein to the Chicago Cubs. At Double-A Portland, Kurcz went 3-4 with a 3.04 ERA, six holds, four saves and four blown saves.
Donnie Roach was the ace of that CSN staff, going 12-3 with a 2.67 ERA and seven complete games. In his first three appearances for the San Diego Padres this spring, the crafty righty with a bowling-ball sinker allowed only one earned run over four innings. Smart money is on Roach becoming the first of Harper’s former CSN teammates to join him in the majors. Will he be the only one?
Like Roach and Kurcz, left-handed pitcher Chasen Shreve finished last season at the Double-A level. He’s in the Atlanta Braves system, a call or two away from The Show.
Bryce’s older brother, Bryan, (11-1 with a 2.62 ERA at CSN) threw out of the bullpen during an NCAA-title run at South Carolina in 2011 and was selected by the Nationals in the 30th round of the 2011 draft. He had a double-digit ERA at Single-A Auburn in 2012, but his hopes remain high: “The itch to play has never been higher for me,” he tweeted before flying to minor league camp in Florida at the end of February.
Pitchers Tyler Hanks, a 17th-round draft pick by Washington in 2010, and Kenny McDowall, tabbed in the eighth round by the New York Mets, were out of the game by the end of 2011.
The dozen or so Coyotes—including Kirk and Dysinger—who followed Chambers from CSN to UNLV found Division-I ball to be a grind as the Rebels went a combined 59-56 in 2011 and 2012.
But there were small glories along the way: A kid chased down Kirk’s only home run as a junior and Trevor presented the ball to his father, Rich, who had played baseball at Rancho High with Ron Harper, Bryce and Bryan’s father. Kirk hit .400 much of last season, when he was an academic All-America selection.
At one point, a Detroit Tigers scout expressed interest in Kirk—who had labored through two shoulder surgeries at UNLV—but his cellphone remained quiet on draft day. He takes the snub out on foes when he plays on the elite Team Infamous softball squad.
This is how most baseball careers end—quietly, with a lingering sense of what-if. Most of The Other Guys suffered their own version of what-if:
• Dysinger fought a hand injury his entire senior season, hitting only .283 and committing eight errors. His dream now is to land on one of the area fire departments.
• Hawaiian shortstop Danny Higa is finishing his communications degree requirements at UNLV. Every so often, he plays on Team Infamous with Kirk.
• CSN cleanup hitter Marvin Campbell’s relationship with Chambers disintegrated at UNLV. Citing insubordination, Chambers kicked Campbell off the Rebels midway through last season. Campbell had a season of eligibility left, though, and wound up at Division-II Hawaii Pacific, where he went 9-for-17 with two homers to help the Sea Warriors win three of four games to start this season.
• Pitcher Joe Robinson showed promise late last summer when he picked up a victory and a save in three outings for a Dodgers’ rookie team in Arizona.
• Catcher Ryan Scott and pitcher Tyler Iodence, whose scraggly black beard mirrors Jim Morrison in his final days (he’s a fan of San Francisco’s hirsute closer Sergio Romo), are the only 2010 CSN players left at UNLV to experience this year’s resurgence. At press time, the Hustlin’ Rebels were 17-8.
• Of those who transferred to schools other than UNLV, Montana native Gabe Weidenaar, a versatile fielder and powerful switch-hitter who batted sixth at CSN, went to Oklahoma State and is fortunate to have his freedom.
In late April, with a top-10 batting average in Big 12 Conference games, he was arrested on multiple felony drug charges in Stillwater. In January, a judge suspended a pair of 10-year prison terms in lieu of Weidenaar completing counseling, community service and two years of probation.
As Harper’s stock continues to rise in baseball, Dysinger, Kirk and many of The Other Guys try to forge career paths wearing other uniforms.
Dysinger pines to be a firefighter. In December, the Clark County Fire Department graduated 28 recruits; its application list contains thousands of names, including Dysinger’s. He has two more years to get picked for that academy. Long odds, indeed, but they aren’t as steep as pro ball.
He’s also seen that the stakes are higher off the diamond: In a clinical rotation, as part of his EMT training, the CPR-certified Dysinger was recently the last hope for a man who might have suffered fatal cardiac arrest at least 10 minutes before reaching Dysinger in the emergency room of an area hospital. Dysinger’s hard double-palmed chest pumps ended when the supervising doctor declared the man DOA.
It was his most intimate brush with death, but it reinforced Dysinger’s goal.
“That was tough, but there’s nothing I or anyone else could have done,” he says. “I know this is what I want do to and what I will do. I know I will help people.” Meanwhile, Kirk, who majored in kinesiology, has moved on from parking cars—and from baseball. He’s now an associate representative for an orthopedic instrument supply company, assisting surgeons with the latest medical devices.
He ponders his ex-teammates reuniting someday to form one hell of a softball team. “Can you imagine a team like that?” he says. “We’ll all be old and have beer bellies.”
He squints into the sun outside a Henderson In-N-Out Burger. He mentions the mediocre two seasons at UNLV, the phone call that never came from the Detroit Tigers. He lowers his voice to a near-whisper.
“As you get older, you just want to remember the good things. There’s life after baseball.”