Olympic Notebook: |
Team USA brass can only sit and watch now
By John Manuel
SYDNEYFor Paul Seiler and Steve Cohen, Sandy Alderson and Bob Watson, all they can do now is watch. They've done their jobs. Now it's up to Team USA's players to do theirs.
Seiler, USA Baseball's executive director, served with Alderson and Watson on the committee that selected the players for Team USA. Watson co-chaired the committee with Bill Bavasi, who didn't make the trip due to prior commitments. Cohen, director of national team operations for USA Baseball, is helping Seiler with administrative duties here in Australia, but both acknowledged the hardest part of their jobs is over.
Cohen had a notebook out and was keeping score in Team USA's 11-1 win against South Africa, but said he wasn't doing it in any official capacity.
"It's more out of habit than anything else," he said. He proceeded to leaf back through his notebook to detail Jon Rauch's troubles in his first Team USA start, an exhibition loss to the Netherlands.
Team USA's cheering section behind home plate regularly includes Cohen and Seiler, along with Major League Baseball Players Association representative Tony Bernazard, the former big league infielder. Against South Africa, it also included former USA Baseball CEO and big league general manager Dan O'Brien, who helped guide USA Baseball during its transitional period from using amateurs to using professionals. Former Southern California coach Rod Dedeaux is also a constant, greeting visitors with his usual, "Hey, Tiger!" Dedeaux is a frequent companion of manager Tom Lasorda during pregame batting practice.
Sitting behind Dedeaux at the South Africa game were Team USA auxiliary coaches Dick Cooke (Davidson) and Ray Tanner (South Carolina). Tanner, Baseball America's 2000 College Coach of the Year, was charting Team USA's batters, while
Cooke tracked the pitchers. He noted that Rauch's early struggles against
South Africathree of the first six batters got hitswere due to his reliance on his fastball. "He's throwing a nice slider now," he said later in the game. "He backed that one up to strike a guy out, and he's throwing more strikes with his fastball now."
Cooke has experience doing this, serving in an identical capacity during the Pan American Games last year. For Tanner, though, sitting in the stands during the game is something altogether new.
"It's one of the hardest things I've ever had to do," Tanner said. "During the exhibition games, we were in uniform and we are in batting practice, but we can't be in uniform for the real games. It's just not what I'm used to."
Tanner did do a little coaching in the win against Japan from the stands. His former player, Team USA shortstop Adam Everett, was asked to move to third basea position Tanner said Everett has never played to his recollectionlate in the game. Tanner said Everett looked up at him in the stands between innings and asked, "Third base?" Tanner replied, "It's easy compared to shortstop."
Everett made it look easy, backhanding a ball headed down the line and making the throw to first easily. In fact, in his short stint, he's looked like Team USA's best option defensively at third. He played third again to close out the game against The Netherlands.
So maybe Team USA's support staff has more to do than just cheer after all.
Radar Picks Up Prospects
The area behind home plate had more radar guns than usual Wednesday afternoon, as major league scouts turned out in full force to see Cuba play the Netherlands.
Most didn't seem too shocked when the Cubans lost their first Olympic game ever, 4-2. The result wasn't as important as the results registering on their radar guns. When Cuban righthander Maels Rodriguez' fastball spoke, scouts listened.
It spoke loudly against the Dutch, just as it did last year in the Pan American Games, just as it did in Cuba's Serie Nacional, the island nation's top baseball league. Just 5-foot-11 and 176 pounds, Rodriguez pitched 5 2/3 innings against the Dutch in Cuba's loss, giving up what turned out to be the game-winning hit, a double by former big leaguer Hensley Meulens.
Rodriguez gave up three hits and three walks while striking out seven. The last strikeout came in the bottom of the eighth. Rodriguez, whose fastball had been in the 92-95 mph range most of the game with several 97s and one 99, seemed to tire a bit, with no pitch going past 92. Ralph Milliard (Padres) had a one-out single and stole second, and with two outs Rodriguez intentionally walked Meulens.
Facing Percy Isenia, Rodriguez reached back for something extra. He struck out Isenia with three fastballs that registered 96, 97 and 97 mph, the last pitch right on the black at the knees on the outside corner.
"That guy threw hard, but I heard 99 went on the scoreboard, and I didn't think he was throwing that hard," Dutch shortstop Robert Eenhoorn said. "He was very good, though."
Behind the plate, the scouts oohed and aahed, giving Rodriguez' fastball the highest grade on their 2-to-8 scale. "That's an eight fastball, because you can't go higher," one scout said. "It's got velocity, it explodes, he's got command of it. That's as good as it gets."
Rodriguez may not be the best unavailable prospect in the Games, however. That distinction probably goes to Japanese righthander Daisuke Matsuzaka, who pitched 10 brilliant innings against Team USA on Sunday in Japan's 4-2 loss in 13 innings.
One international scout recounted the story of Matsuzaka's high school legend. In Japan's national high school tournament, Matsuzaka threw back-to-back complete game wins, throwing 250 pitches, then pitched an inning in relief the next day. On the fourth day, he started again and again got the win with a complete game, throwing about 400 pitches in four days.
His reputation grew when he was the Pacific League's 1999 rookie of the year.
"He's a rock star over there," the scout said. "He's their Elvis. He's a handsome guy and he's a great young pitcher. He'd be a first-rounder if you could draft him, but I don't think he'll ever leave Japan."
Matsuzaka showed a 90-94 mph fastball against Team USA and kept his velocity deep into his 10-inning effort. He also throws an above-average split-finger fastball and has good command of his curveball and slider. After the game he said he had no special training regimen for his arm and doesn't ice his arm down after games.
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