For the first time in four years, the Stars and Stripes are part of the World Baseball Challenge.
The United States, convincing winners of the 2009 WBC at Citizen Field, is back in contention for the title after missing the 2011 tournament.
Made up of current and graduated players from the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges, a league of 28 junior college teams in Washington and Oregon, as well as Douglas College in New Westminster, the U.S. team lacks the big-name star power that came with that 2009 team of NCAA college all-stars, but dont count them out.
Theyre talented, they have experience in high-level amateur tournaments, and they are just as hungry as any of the players in the WBC to draw the attention of major league scouts who will gather behind the backstop at Citizen Field.
We have quite a few players on the team currently playing at four-year schools and also have a few who are still at the junior college level, said U.S. team general manager Mike MacCulloch.
USA Baseball wasnt able to send the national team so with us being as close to Prince George as anybody they reached out to us to help put together a team. This isnt the first time weve represented the U.S. at an international competition.
In 2006 a similar team of select players from the NWAACC finished third at the Honkbal International tournament in Haarlem, Netherlands.
That year, the U.S. team defeated China and Japan. NWAACC is the largest junior college wood-bat baseball league in the U.S.
Without being totally familiar with that 06 team, I think we have a lot more talent on this team, said MacCulloch.
Offensively, were a notch above that. We have a lot of guys who can really swing it and have experience swinging wood. Sometimes you get college guys in a tournament like this who have been swinging aluminum all year round, its a different type of swing.
MacCulloch loaded up on left-handed hitters, and that was before he learned the dimensions and configuration of the Citizen Field wall is similar to that of Fenway Park. The left field line and the monster wall overlooking it are 300 feet from home plate, its 382 feet to the deepest part of the park at right centre field, and the right field line is 311 feet away, jutting out to 340 feet.
I didnt realize how small the right field porch was when I was assembling this team and we are very heavily left-handed batters, said MacCulloch.
Ten pitchers made the border crossing, including relievers Scott Kuzminsky, a righthander who now plays at the University of Hawaii, after two years at Bellevue College, and lefty Christian Bannister, a first-team All-American at Mt. Hood who now plays for Concordia University in Portland, Ore.
All our other pitchers have historically been starters and first-team all-league performers, so guys will be able to go long and deep if necessary, said MacCulloch.
Expect some fireworks out of the bats of first baseman Jacob Herklotz, third baseman Nate Mullins, third base/designated hitter Bobby Lecount, shortstop Max Whitt and outfielder Tyler Baumgartner.
Mullins was an NAIA All-American in his junior year at Bellevue University. Lecount just finished his college career at New Mexico State, where he hit .326 and was in the top-10 in the NCAA in RBIs with 69 and reached the top-15 in home runs with 15 in 57 games.
With scouts from most major league teams coming to Prince George for the 10-day tournament, this is the chance for the junior college stars on Team USA to audition and maybe get their names back into the pool of drafted players. Junior colleges are attractive to players looking to turn pro right away because they can get drafted after their freshman or sophomore year, while players at four-year schools are not eligible until after their junior years.
The U.S. team ranges in age from 21 to 23.
Were going to go out there and hit the ball to all fields and be solid defensively and being that were not a national team I think we might sneak up on a few people, said MacCulloch. None of our guys are going to be intimidated going against any of these teams. These kids have been playing high-level college ball and select summer ball teams throughout their playing career, so playing against professional-quality is not out of the norm.
We have on our roster some college seniors who were overlooked in the major league draft who want a chance to prove they have the ability to play at the professional level and we also have a number of younger players who want to position themselves for the 2014 or 2015 draft.
On paper, the U.S. team doesnt appear to stack up to the powerhouse squad of NCAA college all-stars which won the 2009 WBC, the first time Prince George played host. The 2009 U.S. team gave Prince George fans a peek at future major leaguers Gerrit Cole, the first overall pick in the 2011 draft and now a starting pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, catcher Yasmani Grandal (San Diego Padres), pitcher Drew Pomeranz (Colorado Rockies), shortstop Brad Miller (Seattle Mariners) and pitcher Sonny Gray (Oakland As).
Gray made his major league debut last weekend for the As, pitching six innings Saturday in a 5-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.
That U.S. team at the 2009 WBC also had a handful of players now on the cusp of making it into the majors, including second basemen Kolten Wong (St. Louis Cardinals) and Christian Colon (Kansas City Royals), OF Michael Choice (Oakland As), and OF Bryce Brentz (Boston Red Sox).
The 2013 edition of that team won all five games in a series against the Cuban national team earlier this summer, all close games. But with college teams on the verge of beginning their fall seasons, the national select team has disbanded.
They dont stay together in August, said WBC co-chair Jim Swanson.
Those guys play a lot of baseball and they need some time off. The U.S. team thats coming here this year will be good. Theyre going to be big, theyll be seasoned and they will be hungry.
The U.S. opened the tournament Tuesday night against Canada. Today, at 3 p.m. at Citizen Field, the Americans will take on Chinese Taipei.