Friday, August 1, 2008

USA vs. Canada: First Exhibition

By: Dick Cooke
1 p.m.  - This is our first true team meeting, a meet and greet, which is led by Paul Seiler, the executive director of USA Baseball. These meetings are critical as they help everyone learn more about one another but, even more importantly, it allows Paul to explain just what this means from the perspective of USA Baseball and what he hopes it comes to mean for each player.

Forty-two people in the room (24 players, 6 coaches, 12 support staff), and everyone spends a moment explaining who they are, where they are from and how they wound up with this team. It winds up being a two-hour meeting but no one minds.

Seiler is, as usual, impressive in stating what these players represent as they go to play with USA on their uniforms. The players learn about Davey Johnson's history in the game: two World Series as a player, managed the world champion '86 Mets as well as the Orioles, Reds and Dodgers, hit behind Hank Aaron and Sadahuro Oh, got the last hit off of Sandy Koufax in '66. We learn that pitching coach Marcel Lacheman got his first out in a limited big league career by getting Davey to ground out to second base in 1969. Davey denies this.

The staff as a whole does a great job of explaining just what this - and other USA experiences - means to each of us. I look around the room at the players as we speak, and they are locked in and truly listening to what everyone has to say.

The players, too, are impressive. Matt Laporta, who has been in the news recently as the player who was traded by the Brewers for CC Sabbathia, spends most of his time thanking everyone over and over for the opportunity and saying what a privilege it is for him to play with all of the other guys in the room.

John Gall (Marlins, AAA, Stanford '00) says that each player is at a different point in their careers. He and a few others are on the backside of their professional careers, while LaPorta, Brett Anderson and the younger players have their best days ahead. Regardless, he says, this USA opportunity has the same type of lifetime impact on each of them. As a group they seem humbled to be here. Egos appear to have been checked, which is essential.

The meeting ends later than expected so we rush out of the room, get dressed and head to the bus.

3:30 p.m. - Bus to the USA Training Complex in Cary.

4 p.m. - Stretch and throw

4:30 p.m. - BP. 15 minutes per group. Today I throw again to Nix (Rockies, AAA), Donald (Phillies AA), and Brown (Angels, AAA). Lou Marson (Phillies, AA) joins the group. Brown has a particularly good round today after not feeling good about it yesterday.

7 p.m. - After the teams are introduced, I head to the stands where I will chart pitches and velocities and track pitch counts, all of which I communicate to pitching coach Marcel Lacheman during the game. I will also take notes on Canada's hitters and pitchers, which will be inserted into the scouting report we will ultimately create on them when we play in Beijing. Apparently my access to sitting behind home plate may face some challenges in Beijing. We sense that won't be the only challenge over there.

Mike Frongello (Davidson '12), a sophomore pitcher at Davidson, and his family come to the game, and I am able to visit with them.

Left-hander Brett Anderson, (A's, AA) starts for us and gives us four strong innings - three hits, four Ks, one walk.

Terry Tiffee (Dodgers, AAA) drives in the first run in the 3rd. Matt Laporta (Indians, AA) hits a home run in the 4th to put us up 2-0, and Brian Duensing (Twins, AAA) pitches a good 5th and 6th.

Canada scores three in the 7th against Mike Koplove (Dodgers, AAA), a sidearm righty who, because of his arm slot, doesn't match up well against lefties - and nine of Canada's 13 hitters are left-handed. He'll be a situational right-handed pitcher when the Games start.

Brian Barden's (Cardinals, AAA) home run in the bottom of the 7th ties it up, and that's how it stays until the 10th, when Canada scratches a run across against Jeff Stevens (Indians, AAA) with two outs.

4-3 Canada in 10.

It's a quiet bus back to the hotel, but it's simply one of what we hope will be seven or eight games before we play our first one that counts. Davey will adjust the lineup each night; we'll see each starting pitcher once and each reliver twice over these four games, and then we'll have a better sense as to what may or may not work.

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