Youth Tournament Still On

Sanctioning body pulls out, but 16-and-under squad presses 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An event will be played, but IBAF has rescinded its affiliation, choosing not to sanction it as a World Championship because of political differences between the governments of Taiwan and the host country.

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."