This U.S. Team, Made Up of College All-Stars, Has World Series Games of Its Own : No Such Thing as Summer Vacation
Every four years, they are the United States Olympic baseball team.
Now, they are just the national team.
But, like the title, most changes are in name only. The 24 players and coaches, although a different group from the one that won the silver medal last summer, still barnstorm like a rock star, with gigs anywhere from Miami to Visalia to Tokyo and many points in between.
It looks as if they have the same uniforms as the Olympians. It looks as if they have the same kind of support from the New Jersey-based U.S. Baseball Federation. And it looks as if they still plan to be a bunch of 19- and 20-year-old world beaters.
Los Angeles was the final stop for the Americans last week, including two games against local all-stars, before things turn serious: the 14th annual “Friendship Series,” a seven-game series between the college all-stars of United States and Japan beginning Tuesday in Tokyo, and a similar series in Seoul, South Korea, with that country’s team starting July 10.
Those games could be the longest the Americans will have their feet firmly planted for some time. The schedule has them leaving Seoul July 22 at 5 p.m. for a flight to LAX, followed by an 11-hour layover, followed by another flight to Atlanta, followed by another connection to Norfolk, Va.
And following that? Maybe exhaustion, but no time has been officially alloted for that. The rest of the week looks something like this:
July 24--Old Dominion All-Stars, Norfolk.
July 25--Richmond All-Stars, Richmond, Va.
July 26--Chapel Hill All-Stars, Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
July 27--Canadian national team, Sanford, Fla.
July 28--Miami Marlins minor league team, Miami.
July 29--Jacksonville Expos minor league team, Jacksonville, Fla.
The end of the schedule--and the end of the road for that matter--comes at the important Intercontinental Cup Games in Edmonton, Canada, Aug. 5-19. The United States will be one of eight teams in that competition, which also figures to include the Japanese national squad that defeated the U.S. Olympians, 6-3, for the gold medal at Dodger Stadium last August.
But as already noted, this is a whole new ballgame, with new players on the American side. Most apparent is that the United States has new players and new coaches, and other twists.
For one thing, there is youth. A lot of it. When the USBF put this group together, it pretty much went with players who are coming off freshman or sophomore years in college, so as not to lose a player when he is drafted after the junior season. Therefore, there are only two juniors on the team (catcher Joe Girardi from Northwestern and hard-hitting outfielder Scott Johnson from the University of North Carolina), and no player is over 20.
Secondly, there is the Southern California representation, particularly on the pitching staff.
There is Stanford’s Jack McDowell, who figures to start Game 1 of the Japan series. In 1984, Notre Dame High of Sherman Oaks was ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today, and McDowell was one of the major reasons. He was named the Southern Section’s 4-A Player of the Year. He finished his freshman season with the Cardinal as the No. 2 pitcher, behind senior Jeff Ballard, going 5-1 in the conference with four complete games, including a four-hit shutout against UCLA.
Another is 6-4, 200-pound right-hander Mike Fetters, who went 10-2 for Pepperdine in 1984 and 9-2 through the ’85 regular season. He earned the nickname “Pac Man” after beating USC, UCLA and Arizona State of the Pacific 10 Conference as a freshman. He struck out six in five innings and was the winning pitcher in last Thursday’s game at Long Beach.
And then there is the interesting case of USC’s Brad Brink.
What kind of year has he had? How about 4-10, with a 6.38 earned-run average, 60 walks to go with 69 strikeouts as a supposed power pitcher, and 145 hits allowed in 108 innings pitched.
In a season in which the Trojans finished 22-44 overall, set a school record for most losses ever in a season and broke the conference record by losing 25 of 30 games, Brink, very impressive at times the year before, fit right in.
Yet with all that, he can’t get rid of the professional scouts. A longtime Dodger fan, he was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 17th round coming out of high school, and indications are that he could be drafted higher after next season.
“I would definitely say that he could be a very high draft choice next year, barring injuries or going backwards or sideways,” said Tom Roberts, a scout with the Chicago White Sox. “But with his body and the makeup of his personality, I don’t perceive that happening.
“He’s not overpowering, not like (San Diego Padre Rich) Gossage. But he’s got a good live fastball. He just needs to find a good out pitch to go with it.”
Adds Detroit Tiger scout Roger Jongewaard: “He is pretty much the type of person a lot of teams are looking for. He’s got some power on his fastball and kind of some good stuff on his other pitches. He really is quite sound, so he could move up quite rapidly.”
Brink, a 6-2, 190-pound junior-to-be out of Modesto, has also impressed with his poise. A 20-year-old with baseball experience internationally twice over before this trip, he is accepts those compliments the same way he accepts blame for USC’s bad season.
“At times, I think he is almost too nice to be a pitcher,” said national team Coach Duane Banks from the University of Iowa. “But it must be the altitude of the mound or something. He is a real Jekyll and Hyde because he is such a great competitor out there.”
Or as Brink himself puts it: “It’s real nice, but I can’t worry about it. Just like everything else, I just want to go out and do my best, and then hope the rest takes care of itself.”
Despite a bad sophomore year and an unimpressive first start June 18 in Fresno on the national team’s tour, that is exactly what seems to be happening.