Monday, August 4, 2008

USA vs. Canada: Third-Straight Win, Final Exhibition

By: Dick Cooke
A special Davidson College treat for all of the USA Baseball contingent as Porter Halyburton, Davidson '63 and Vietnam POW, addresses the team at lunch. Mike Gaski, the president of USA Baseball and the baseball coach at UNCG, met Porter this spring and asked him to visit with us.

He arrived Sunday in time for our game and plans to see tonight's game as well. Porter talks about teamwork and leadership and communication and how critical it was to the prisoner's survival and its relevance to what we are hoping to accomplish in Beijing.

It's a great talk, and everyone is riveted as he shares some of what he went through for seven years in captivity, and the mechanisms he (and other prisoners) developed to survive.

Our 13-hour flight to Beijing suddenly isn't quite so inconvenient. We present him with a USA baseball jersey, which each player and staff member sign, and he'll be in the dugout with us tonight.

He and I spend a good deal of time afterwards talking about the town of Davidson, as he educates me on who lived where when he was growing up and other parts of his Davidson and Davidson College experience. MLB productions is here to film his presentation, and they are equally impressed.

3 p.m.  - Bus to the Durham Bulls stadium.

4:35 p.m. - Stretch.

4:45 p.m. - BP.

7 p.m.  - USA 17, Canada 5.

High-scoring games are certainly nice when you're on the right side of the score, but not on a night when it is, by definition, an exhibition game, and we have to pack the bus at 4 a.m. for our bus ride to Dulles airport.

We lead 4-0 in the bottom of the third when Canada scores three off of Jake Arrieta. He pitched well overall, but may have gotten away from his fastball too much and put himself in too many hitters counts. While only in class A he has a high ceiling and is not far from the big leagues.

A nine run 5th by us puts it out of reach and, from that point on, we are looking at the clock. The 10-run rule is in effect in international play so the game officially ends after seven innings, but we play the 8th as we have two pitchers (Brian Duensing and Casey Weathers) who need to get their work in.

We hit four more home runs, led by Hessman with two. We got our first look at right-handed pitcher Stephen Strasburg, a rising junior at San Diego State and the only college player on the team. In fact, he's the first college player to be a part of the USA Professional National team since it's inception in '99. After some first inning jitters, he settles in nicely and throws a dominant second and third inning. Davey and Lach and everyone else are impressed, as this is the first time they've seen him competitively. He carries himself well and looks like he believes he should be here. It will be interesting to see how we use him in China.

Porter Halyburton is front and center on the top step of the dugout for the entire game. As soon as it ends, I inform him that our 17-run output requires that he accompany us to China. He laughs and then four more coaches stop by and tell him the same thing. You don't mess with baseball superstition. I get a sense he considers it for a moment...

You may have noticed that I haven't made observations about player's specific skills or about injuries. For example, while it would be very interesting, I am not sharing pitch velocities. MLB has directed us to be very careful in journal-type settings for a number of reasons, one of which being the fact there is certain information we don't want made public (i.e. - pitcher 'x' throws 96 mph with an 84 mph slider) as it may aid scouting reports by other teams. Four of the other countries we will play had scouts here for this series against Canada so clearly everyone - ourselves included - is looking for any type of edge. Hopefully we're not being paranoid but merely careful.

It's 1:25 a.m. as I wrap this up. We have a long bus ride in three hours so the next entry will come from Beijing, and I hope it's in a timely fashion.

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