It’s Cuba day…..we think. As of last night, the Cuban team had yet to arrive in Veracruz (EDIT: They are here — Game on). They were having some travel difficulties following Ike’s visit to the island last week. We were fortunate to get out ahead of Ike’s supposed onslaught of Miami – which, fortunately for south Florida, never really transpired as predicted – but they were not, evidently.
Cuba should have arrived on Thursday but they didn’t and as of Saturday night I’m not quite sure if they ever got here. The schedule was rearranged giving them their off day on Friday and then they missed their game against Puerto Rico on Saturday. I’m assuming we’ll get them tonight, but they’re going to have to play a double-header at some point to make up their missed games, as well as play on the tournament-wide off day on Wednesday.
We haven’t had a chance to scout them as a result of their absence thus far, which is disappointing, but certainly not too critical. We know they’ll be good and we know they’ll throw their ace at us. We’ll be ready to do the same.
There’s just a different feel to USA-Cuba games than to any others. Every game in this tournament is crucial due to the round robin format, but you can’t help but get just a little more excited to play our biggest rival in the sport. We’ve had some good fortune against them the last two years; beating them in both 2006 and 2007 in comeback fashion. Hopefully we don’t have to come back this time.
It’ll help our cause if we can have some innings like the third inning against Panama. After the first batter struck out – the 7th K of our first 7 outs – 13 straight guys reached base and 12 of those scored. Back-to-Back homers by the same two guys (Bryce and J-Rod) twice in the inning was pretty incredible. We’ll have to ask Elias how many times that’s happened before. I’m gonna guess not too many.
Cody Buckel pitched a great 5 innings for us. He started off a little rough, and I’m sure that had to do with the bundle of nerves everybody was saddled with at the beginning of their first game in a week since the last trials game. And when I say rough, I mean that he actually allowed runners. Nobody hit the ball out of the infield against him, and the play ruled a hit in the first inning could actually have been ruled a fielder’s choice which would have given him a 5-inning no-hitter.
We’ll play some teams a lot better than Panama and it starts with Cuba today and then Puerto Rico the next day. We’re deep and ready. And we’re fueled by McDonald’s, which I bribed the players with if they run-ruled Panama. They took care of business and earned some McFlurry’s on top of their combo meals. If that’s what it takes, then we’ll be headed to McDonald’s a couple more times.
5th INNING: A Matt Lipka triple scored Montogmery in the bottom of the 5th to make the score 15-0 and end the game due to the 15 Run Rule. Team USA moves to 1-0 in the tournament and will next face Cuba Sunday night at 7:00PM CST at Estadio Beto Avila.
4th INNING: After a scoreless top half of the inning for Panama, Buckel reached on an error by the second baseman Avila and scored after an error by right fielder Molina on a Wolters double to left field. Littlewood then singled to right, scoring Wolters to make the score 14-0.
3rd INNING: Buckel retired the first three batters he faced in the top of the 3rd, inducing two groundouts and recording a strikeout to end the top half of the 3rd. After a one out single by Marcus Littlewood in the bottom half of the inning, Bryce Harper homered to right center, putting Team USA up 2-0. The next batter, Jake Rodriguez, made it back to back home runs with a solo shot over the left field wall. A Nicky Delmonico double to left field scored Ladson Montgomery, making the score 4-0. Lopes and Delmonico scored on a passed ball and throwing error by new pitcher Amilcar Ayauz. Lorenzen scored from third after a passed ball, making the score 7-0 in favor of Team USA. Littlewood doubled to center field, scoring Buckel. Harper hammered his second home run of the inning to deep right field, scoring Littlewood and Wolters, making the score 11-0. Rodriguez followed with his second homer of the inning. The inning ends with Team USA up 12-0.
2nd INNING: Buckel struck out the side in the top of the 2nd. Christian Lopes and Michael Lorenzen recorded singles before Buckel struck out to end the inning. The score remains 0-0 heading into the top of the 3rd inning.
1st INNING: The game remains scoreless after one inning. Panama SP Andy Otero struck out three in a row after issuing a lead off walk to Tony Wolters. USA SP Cody Buckel allowed one hit in a scoreless top half of the 1st.
PREGAME: Welcome to Game 1 for Team USA at the COPABE “AA” Youth World Championships. Team USA will be taking on Panama at 2:00PM CST in Veracruz, Mexico at Estadio Beto Avila.
1. Tony Wolters, 2B
2. Marcus Littlewood, SS
3. Bryce Harper, RF
4. Jake Rodriguez, 3B
5. Ladson Montgomery, C
6. Christian Lopes, LF
7. Nicky Delmonico, 1B
8. Michael Lorenzen, CF
9. Cody Buckel, P
Since last we talked, a lot has happened. We selected our
2008 16U National Team.xls. We decided it was best to get out of Miami ahead of Hurricane Ike and then we did just that. We settled into Veracruz at the Hotel Villas Dali (fortunately, that’s not what it sounds like when you’re inside). We worked on our game at the Estadio Beto Avila (pictured right). We got a schedule. And we’ve waited and waited to play a game. Our wait is over on Friday afternoon when we open up with Panama, but everybody is getting antsy to get out there for real. Batting practice and first and thirds can get a little old after awhile.
Last Friday was a tough day as it always is. The group of 33 had become tight, but we were losing many of them because we could only keep 19. Normally that number is 18, but we learned that the roster size had been expanded to 20 and since Coach Padron was staying in Miami through the Hurricane to be with his family, there was one extra ticket that was already paid for. So we selected another player.
The night before we had a talent show after dinner. Gio Alfonzo, Angelo Gumbs (left with Gio wotking the music), and Eric Snyder were the stars of the show. Everyone had a great time and you could tell this was a group that got along which made cutting the group down that much harder. There were some very tough decisions for the coaches but in the end we got a great group of kids that gives us what we think is our best chance to defend our gold medal.
For those that didn’t make it, the wakeup calls were early as we had everyone on a plane by 8:50 am. The newly minted 16U National Team had a chance to sleep in a bit, eat breakfast, move into their new rooms, and then we took care of some administrative stuff. They had 470 autographs to sign for their Upper Deck baseball cards and then Santa Claus came early when they picked up their new team gear.
We headed over to the field for a workout and then a photo shoot for said card set. The guys looked great in their whites and the photographer got some great shots. The practice was important, too, as it was our first opportunity to work on a lot of important things as a team. We ended the day with a team meal at a barbecue joint for some ribs and then celebrated Michael Kelly’s 16th birthday with some ice cream cake and a badly sung song. Sorry we didn’t have any car keys for Michael.
Sunday was another long practice followed by packing up for our 4 AM bus to the airport. Travel to Mexico went smoothly. All of our bags arrived with us, although we had to go to Veracruz in two shifts as there wasn’t enough room for all 27 members of our traveling party on the flight from Mexico City to Veracruz since we had rescheduled at such a late date. 16 got in at 12:45pm while the other 11 got in at 3:40pm. No big deal.
The setup here is very good for a tournament based on my previous experiences. I’ll list some of the positives: The rooms have AC, which is nice, because Veracruz is a muggy, muggy city. More so than Miami in my opinion. We have a wireless internet connection in the lobby which comes in handy for late night blogging.
We are a five-to-ten-minute bus trip to the field and our dining hall (Chow time to the right. Check out the butter brick). We have more than one but less than three English language channels on our TV’s. As well, the TV in room 307 has an interesting fun house mirror effect to it that makes foreheads look huge and lower body halves look tiny. It adds to the entertainment value of TV programs you don’t care much about. There are jugglers who stand in front of idling cars at intersections and juggle fire. I found a place about 3 blocks away called Taqueria Guero that sells 10 Tacos Al Pastor for 270 pesos, which is about $2.60 and that is awesome. Everyone is very nice and has gone out of their way to accommodate our requests, whether they be for field usage, laundry, food, study hall rooms, bus availability for Costco runs to pick up water, you name it.
As far as negatives go, just make sure you don’t assume that pedestrians have the right-of-way when trying to cross the street in Veracruz. They don’t.
So far so good here in Veracruz. We just need to get a chance to play. Hopefully that happens as planned on Friday, but knowing the way that these tournaments seem to take U-turns at the last minute, we’ll proceed with caution as I won’t be shocked at all if the schedule changes by opening day. We are ready, regardless. This is a strong, versatile, deep team and we are focused on our goal.
Although we didn’t get in a scrimmage tonight as we would have liked (we couldn’t find an opponent — everyone is scared), we did get a chance to take BP at the stadium under the lights to get a feel for Beto Avila at night. It really looks cool at night. We also found out there is a little bit of Wrigley in Veracruz when we had some onlookers present behind the wall in right watching from the “rooftop” of the sports dorm where we eat our meals.
Coach Padron gets in tomorrow for our last workout before the tourney starts. It will be great to have our group complete finally. We’ll put the finishing touches on our game, get some American food for dinner, and relax a bit before getting a good night’s rest to be ready to go to work on Friday.
We’ve been working on getting the kids to the Marlins-Braves game for awhile now but nothing was really final until last night and so I was getting nervous. However, with the help of some very generous friends of USA Baseball, things fell into place and we were treated with an absolutely unbelievable experience today.
We let the kids sleep in, which was well earned and well appreciated. We caravanned up to Dolphins Stadium where it was arranged that we’d be brought down to meet some of the Braves at 11am. Tom Reilly, our Miami-based MLB security agent who accompanied our team to Venezuela in 2006, set it all up with the special access.
Meanwhile, Buck Buchanan, a Braves scout and the 2002 16U National Team Head Coach, arranged for us to talk with Clint Sammons and Jeff Francoeur, two of his former ballplayers when he was a high school coach. Clint and Jeff both played on the 2001 18U National Team, while Clint additionally played on the 2002 College National Team and Jeff on the 2006 World Baseball Classic team.
Last night I noticed that Jeff Ridgway had just been called up by the Braves. Ridge was a reliever on the 2006 Olympic Qualifying team that got us a ticket to Beijing in Cuba, and I was fortunate enough to have accompanied that team as the equipment manager/videographer/bat boy. I requested that he be asked to speak, too, and he kindly obliged.
They sat us in the field level seats just next to the dugout and Clint and Ridge came out to talk to us first about their experiences wearing the uniform, to expect the unexpected with international play, and about how fortunate everyone was to have this opportunity to represent their country. They both did a tremendous job.
As they were leaving, Francoeur came out and we got a nice group shot before he spoke to the group. When he was up there, all the kids stood and there were plenty of camera phone shots being taken. Just as his teammates before him, Jeff was great in talking to the guys and answering questions, and I couldn’t have been happier about the experience of giving the kids a little break from the competition of trials, but also getting some great advice from some guys who had played in Cuba and been in dog fights against Mexico, etc.
Their generosity and genuine enthusiasm about talking to our group was great to see, and I let our kids know that it would be a great way to pay USA Baseball back a little when they are in the same position one day. We’ll check back in 8 years.
It was at this point that I thought we’d be escorted to our seats for the game, and I would have been more
than fine with that. However, it was arranged for us to
watch Marlins’ batting practice from the warning track behind homeplate. That was amazing. And then it got even better when the Marlins’ hitting coach, Jim Presley, invited the staff to watch BP from right behind the cage.
Hall of Famer Tony Perez, a Special Assistant to the President of the Marlins was behind the cage and sarcastically told one of our trials
coaches, the diminutive Dave Tykoski, that he should get on the elevated stand so that he could see into the cage. Tyke’s answer, was, of course, nothing other than “yes, sir.”
In the meantime, some Marlins players finally got curious enough as to who the 33 similarly dressed kids were behind the barrier and they began interacting with our guys. Hanley Ramirez, who didn’t take BP but still hit a bomb to center during the game, came out of the clubhouse to shake our guys’ hands.
Luis Gonzalez was walking around on his 41st birthday and was a particular hit with our Arizona contingent, which is fairly deep. So much of a hit, in fact, that our lone Arizona Trials player Zach Davies got his iphone signed by Gonzo.
About half way through BP, Jim Presley then extended the cage invitation to all of the guys, so they got a close up view of Dallas McPherson hitting the ball with ease about 450 feet to the opposite field. It was awesome. There was more interaction with guys like Dan Uggla and gold-medalist husband, Matt Treanor, and it was more than I had ever imagined of this day.
We finally had to leave the field so we took our seats in the right field bleachers and watched about an hour and a half of the game before we had to head back to study hall. The highlights were definitely the Peanut Lady and Trials player Brandon Johnson falling asleep and having the jumbotron catch him. It was a seriously funny moment.
Coach LaFevers even did a TV interview out there and showed off his media savvy.
It was then back to the car to head home for some study hall and then a night practice. The day was great, the rest was good, practice was effective, and we’re ready to push forward into the last two, very important trials games tomorrow and Friday as we pick the players who are going to go to Mexico to qualify for next year’s Worlds and then win the whole thing.
Many thanks need to go out on behalf of me and USA Baseball to a lot of people that put this experience together for our guys; so thanks very much to the Braves players, their media relations department, Tom Reilly, the Marlins community relations staff, their players and coaches, and the jumbotron operator. Thanks a lot, everyone.
The 16U National Team Trials are officially underway as the Blue Team knocked off the Red Team, 9-7 in 8 innings tonight at FIU. The kids have waited a long time to get on the field to try to make the National Team between the original Panama delay and then the Mexico delay, and you could tell that they were anxious to play some baseball.
Blue starter Philip Pfeifer threw three perfect innings with 5 K’s and was supported by two hits a piece from Blue hitters Nick Castellanos, Marcus Littlewood, and Zach Davies, while catcher Bryce Harper came off the bench and drilled a shot over the wall in right for the trials’ first home run.
Red centerfielder Mitchell Shifflett had a double and a triple out of the leadoff spot, while catcher Will Allen scored twice in a losing effort.
The first couple of days have been great, just a bit wet. If they didn’t know how to pull tarp before reporting to trials, they do now, as we’re averaging about 2 tarp pulls a day.
The setup is great at FIU. Their players and coaches have vacated their lockerroom for us and that has provided us with a real professional feel. The hotel is just as good and we’re about 4 minutes away by minivan. The covered cages came in very handy the other day when the outer reaches of Hurricane Gustav paid us a visit on Sunday morning and forced us off the field.
Everyone is playing hard and handling the long, strenuous days well. We’ve got a couple of guys banged up and we were short on pitching to begin with after we lost a few kids before trials started when they couldn’t get miss school to come to trials, so we’ve had to juggle things a little on the mound, but making adjustments is something we’ve preached to the kids from the start and they’ve done a good job with what we’ve asked of them.
We’re still working out the kinks on the media side of things and we’ll have a full box and recap on the website tomorrow after some computer difficulties tonight prevented us from getting that out to this point. As well, we plan to make frequent updates to the blog to give you a little more insight into the goings on at trials, and if we get an internet hookup in the pressbox (hopefully tomorrow), we may even be able to do some in-game updates.