Youth Tournament Still On

USA Baseball’s youth national team arrived Wednesday in Venezuela and
was preparing to begin its annual international tournament, albeit
amidst adversity.

The 16-and-under youth national team was one of 10 teams scheduled to
compete in the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) World Youth
Championships in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, Aug. 17-26.

An event will be played, but IBAF has rescinded its affiliation,
choosing not to sanction it as a World Championship because of
political differences between the governments of Taiwan and the host

Taiwan’s youth team did not receive visas from Venezuela and therefore
could not participate in the event, leading to IBAF’s decision.

“That’s essentially correct, because we have to be consistent with our
own rules and International (Olympic) Committee rules in terms of a
member organization that can’t compete because they can’t get visas,”
IBAF president Harvey Schiller said. “Apparently there are no
diplomatic relations between (Taiwan and Venezuela), and that’s what
led to it.”

Financial, safety and other logistical concerns, including the exact
location of the event, had prompted some countries, including Australia
and the Dominican Republic, to pull out of the event even before IBAF’s
announcement. Without Taiwan, the watered-down pool of countries
scheduled to compete was down to nine, including the U.S., Aruba,
Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, France, Japan, Mexico and Venezuela.

A tournament will still be played. Schiller characterized the tournament as “something of
an invitational, a regional tournament as opposed to a World
Championship,” Schiller said.

“What will happen in the future is that (host) countries will have to
guarantee access (to all member federations wishing to participate).”

“It’s a formality,” USA Baseball CEO Paul Seiler said. “It’s a shame
that athletes are affected by politics, but for our players and the
others in that universe, in that seven to 10 days they’re playing
together, whether or not a federation sanctions the event, it doesn’t
make a lot of difference to the kids.”

The tournament will begin as scheduled Friday, with Team USA aiming to
duplicate its gold-medal performance of 2006 when the youth team went
9-0 and won a gold medal at the COPABE Pan Am Championship, which was
also held in Barquisimeto. That event served as a qualifier for this
year’s 16-and-under event.

USA Baseball selects 36 players for a week-long trial from a pool of
more than 2,500 players competing at the two Junior Olympic tournaments
in Peoria and Surprise, Ariz., and Jupiter, Fla., in June. Those 36
players gathered in Cary, N.C., in August and competed for one of 18
spots on the final roster.

Seven high school players from Florida and six from California made the
final cut. Fifteen of them are rising juniors and three players are
members of the Class of 2010, rising sophomores.

“I think this team has a nice balance of pitching and a dangerous
lineup,” said head coach Gary Hatch (Sehome High, Bellingham, Wash.)
who was an assistant on last year’s youth team. “We’re going to be able
to generate some runs with the pressure game and with baserunning. We
worked these guys’ butts off during trials and they’ve responded well.”