Small-Program Players Make Push For Collegiate National Team

CARY, N.C.—When Tyler Frank stepped onto the field at the USA Baseball National Training Complex for the first time, with the red and blue letters “USA” embroidered across the chest of his spotless white jersey, it was a moment he’ll never forget.

That’s a sentiment likely held by each member of the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team when they first lace up their cleats for their country. It’s an honor for each player, but for Frank, the opportunity might shine a bit brighter.

Frank, USA Baseball’s starting second baseman in its 10-0 season-opener win over the Catawba Valley Stars on Thursday, is a rising junior at Florida Atlantic. Playing in Conference USA, the Owls have a strong program, with 10 regional trips since 1999, but not one that has broken through to Omaha.

Frank is just the second Owl to be invited to the Collegiate National Team tryouts, the first since righthander Mickey Storey in 2005.

“I was just honored,” Frank said. “It was a dream as a young kid. To get the call is a special feeling. I just want to be out here, playing for the name across my chest.”

Frank joins USA Baseball following a season in which he hit .336/.448/.540 with 11 home runs.

Like Frank, Georgia State’s Hunter Gaddis is another invitee from a smaller program. Playing in the Sun Belt, the rising sophomore went 4-4, 3.72 with just 19 walks in 76 innings.

“I was just really excited,” Gaddis said. “It’s an honor to come play out here—nothing but excitement.”

Both will have a chance to play in tryout games up until June 25; the final decision for the roster will be announced the following day. As Collegiate National Team manager John Savage (UCLA coach) said, the players here on tryout will need to show more than just strong hitting or pitching if they want a spot on the roster.

“As a hitter, you’ve got to be able to handle stuff,” Savage said. “You’re looking for plate discipline. You’re looking for confidence. You’re looking for guys that can get to the next pitch, that can handle a poor at-bat and come back and play good defense. You’ve got to start being a professional player.”

Frank and Gaddis are up to the challenge posed by their manager, and part of what drives them is the program they play for in the spring. Each year, the USA Baseball roster is populated with players from the traditional blue bloods and Omaha regulars—Florida, Vanderbilt, North Carolina and so on.

For them, it’s an opportunity to prove that despite not being with a prestigious program, they can still play with the best of them.

“You go to (FAU), and that’s your mindset, that you have a chip on your shoulder,” Frank said. “You have to play hard, and that’s how you’ve been your whole life.”

Added Gaddis, “That’s been on my mind this whole time. It doesn’t really matter where you go, you can still be a good player.”

The recent past has seen players from mid-major programs make the CNT’s final roster, such as Nevada’s T.J. Friedl (2016), College of Charleston’s Bailey Ober (2014) and Oral Roberts’ Jose Trevino (2012). The opportunity is there for Frank and Gaddis if they choose to seize it.

It’s not lost on either that an incredibly opportunity awaits not for just themselves but their schools as well. If one player from a smaller program can find success with USA Baseball, doors will be opened to future players from that same team.

“It gives our guys the feeling that they can do this as well,” Frank said. “They can have that outlook on it. I think it well help our program moving forward.”

While Frank and Gaddis have it in their minds that they come from less-historic programs, all Savage sees are ballplayers.

“You look at baseball cards in the big leagues, they come from all over,” he said. “Unlike football and basketball, baseball is a game where you can find guys in a lot of different spots. I think certainly those guys are quality players.”

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