By John Manuel
July 1, 2005
Team USA announced its 22-man roster for its summer tour Friday, a roster headed by 2004 team alumni Ian Kennedy (Southern California) and Drew Stubbs (Texas).
For the 17 players who were cut Thursday, though, coach Steve Smith (Baylor) had a story to remind them not to despair.
“In the first meeting I had with the team, I read off five names—Ben Sheets, Barry Zito, Brian Roberts, Xavier Nady, Kevin Mench,” said Smith, who was an assistant to Ron Polk on the ’98 squad. “They have two things in common—they’re all playing in the big leagues, and they all got cut in 1998 from Team USA.
“It was almost impossible to make these cuts; it was almost flipping a coin on who we chose, it was that difficult. But I didn’t want any of them to think this was the end of their career if they didn’t make this team. (Lamar catcher) Michael Ambort came in after he found out he didn’t make the team and just said, ‘I’m just going to try to be one of the five.’ I thought that was a great response.”
Of course, the futures of the players who made the team also should be bright. Kennedy, a first-team All-American, should be the team’s ace. The fleet-footed Stubbs, a premier defender in center field, is one of eight players for Team USA who participated in the College World Series, including three from national runner-up Florida—second baseman Adam Davis, catcher Brian Jeroloman and first baseman Matt LaPorta.
Perhaps no player had a more impressive trials performance than LaPorta. First, he arrived a day before the other CWS championship series players, driven by a strong desire to make the team. Then LaPorta sealed his place on the roster by hitting three home runs in the trials games Thursday.
That was running theme of the trials—power—that impressed Smith.
“It started in BP and carried on into the games—all the guys swung the bat well with wood, it really surprised and impressed me,” Smith said. “That would not have been the case, I don’t think, six or seven years ago. You can tell they’ve all been swinging with wood. When a little guy like Shane Robinson (Florida State) is hitting one out, you know he’s been swinging with wood.”
Robinson, also a first-team All-American, is one of six Atlantic Coast Conference players on the roster, the most of any conference. Five Southeastern Conference representatives made it, as well as four players each from the Pacific-10 and Big 12 conferences.
The roster includes three of the nation’s top freshmen, all two-way players—Virginia’s Sean Doolitte, Rice’s Joe Savery and Georgia Tech’s Matt Wieters. All three were first-team All-Freshman selections. Savery isn’t expected to hit this summer after breaking a bone in his right (non-throwing) hand in a super-regional against Tulane. The only other freshmen to make the roster are lefthander David Price (Vanderbilt) and catcher J.P. Arencibia (Tennessee).
“It’s hard to imagine a more versatile player than Wieters,” Smith said of the catcher/closer. “Doolittle really was great the last two days of the trials—I think he had seven or eight hits, and he looked good on the mound and gives us another lefthander.”
Team USA begins its summer schedule this weekend against three teams from the New England Collegiate League, opening play Saturday night in Connecticut against the Torrington Twisters, followed by games Sunday against the Keene (N.H.) Swamp Bats and Monday with a July 4 game against the Newport Gulls at historic Cardines Field.
Then it’s off to Japan for the annual series against Japan’s college all-stars. Former Southern California coach Rod Dedeaux, 92, who began the series 35 years ago, will accompany Team USA for the trip. The team also plays five games in Taiwan before returning to the U.S. for a series against Italy that begins July 22.
“This is more of a tour,” Smith said. “That’s the one aspect of it that is most different. There are several series’ of games in international competition, but there is not one event that you are working towards.”
USA BASEBALL COLLEGE TEAM TRIALS ROSTER
|Sean Doolittle, lhp/1b||Fr.||Virginia|
|Kevin Gunderson, lhp||So.||Oregon State|
|Ian Kennedy, rhp||So.||Southern California|
|Kyle McCulloch, rhp||So.||Texas|
|Mark Melancon, rhp||So.||Arizona|
|Jonah Nickerson, rhp||So.||Oregon State|
|Chris Perez, rhp||So.||Miami|
|David Price, lhp||Fr.||Vanderbilt|
|Joe Savery, lhp||Fr.||Rice|
|Max Scherzer, rhp||So.||Missouri|
|Matt Wieters, c/1b/rhp||Fr.||Georgia Tech|
|Adam Davis, 2b||So.||Florida|
|Blake Davis, ss||So.||Cal State Fullerton|
|Wes Hodges, 3b||So.||Georgia Tech|
|Matt LaPorta, 1b||So.||Florida|
|Josh Rodriguez, ss||So.||Rice|
|Shane Robinson||So.||Florida State|