By John Manuel
September 28, 2001
It won’t be the World Cup some envision for baseball, one with major leaguers dominating the rosters of the United States, Japan, Dominican Republic and other nations.
But thanks to the acquiescence of Major League Baseball and the union, USA Baseball will be using affiliated professionals for the 2001 World Cup, which will be played in Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) in November.
Team USA will include professional players not currently included on 40-man rosters for the event. This was the same criterion used when USA Baseball selected its first professional roster for the 1999 Pan American Games.
That team, which included current big leaguers such as Athletics lefthander Mark Mulder, Angels second baseman Adam Kennedy and Marlins righthander Brad Penny, finished with a silver medal and qualified the United States for the 2000 Olympics.
Last year at this time, USA Baseball was on everybody’s lips in September. It was almost exactly a year ago when Team USA, led by righthander Ben Sheets, shut out Cuba 3-0 to win the 2000 Olympic gold medal at Homebush Stadium in Sydney, Australia.
But two months later, when USA Baseball needed players for a World Cup qualifying tournament in Panama, the federation was forced to use independent league players. This time, the talent pool will include almost exclusively players from the Arizona Fall League.
“We’re pretty much going to keep it to Fall Leaguers,” said Steve Cohen, USA Baseball’s national team director. “We have to have a pool of about 60 players to have to (the International Baseball Federation) in the next couple of weeks, so there’s a lot of coordinating that has to be done in the next few weeks between us, the players and their agents, and the clubs. And we have to get all the players drug tested.”
Cohen and USA Baseball executive director Paul Seiler, who has spearheaded the organization’s move to professionals and close relationship with MLB and the union, will have a conference call on Sunday to start hashing out the roster.
It’s a roster that already has lost some potential players as big league teams add young players, such as Royals first baseman Ken Harvey and Padres righthander Jeremy Fikac, to their 40-man rosters for September callups.
Some Team USA alumni playing in the AFL are possibilities, however. Lefthander Mike Gosling (Diamondbacks) and righthander Justin Wayne (Expos) both pitched for Team USA as collegians in their Stanford days. Athletics outfielder Ryan Ludwick and Diamondbacks catcher Brad Cresse tied for the home run lead on the ’98 Team USA club as collegians, and Dodgers lefthander Shane Nance led that staff (which included current big leaguers such as Casey Fossum, Jason Jennings and Matt Ginter) in wins and strikeouts.
The best AFL prospects available who are not on 40-man rosters include Devil Rays outfielder Josh Hamilton, who missed much of the season with back and quadriceps injuries, and Rangers third baseman Hank Blalock, who finished third in the minors in batting.
Baseball America and Baseball America Online will have continuing of the roster as it shapes up.