ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - After two and a half weeks of warmup games, USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team heads to the Netherlands to begin play in the Honkbal-Haarlem Baseball Week Friday against other teams from around the world.
“We’re starting to come together as a team," said UNM head coach Ray Birmingham, who is serving as the hitting coach for Team USA this summer. "We’ve made some mistakes as we learned more about the players and each other, but I think know we’ve figured out everybody’s role on the team. We’re starting to click.”
The CNT is 11-2-2 against collegiate summer league teams based in North Carolina, as well as nine games against teams they will be facing in the next week: Chinese Taipei and Japan.
“We have a great group of kids and a great team," Birmingham said. "We’ve beat Chinese Taipei and Japan already, and Chinese Taipei had a bunch of former pros on the team. I think their average age is 29 or 30, and we’re a young team. It’s going to be tough, though, because every team is going to bring it’s ‘A’ game against us. We know they’re going to bring it when they see ‘USA’ on our chests in the other dugout.”
The team has so impressed Birmingham, that he thinks the team might be undefeated if not for one challenging aspect: travel.
"We are 11-2-2 right now, and I don’t know if we would’ve lost a game if not for our crazy travel schedule," he said. "We wake up early each morning, get on the bus, drive to a new city in North Carolina, get off, play a game, get back to the hotel around midnight or later, and then repeat the whole process the next day. I think our losses have just been because the guys are so tired."
Tired or not, Team USA is certainly producing on the field. They are batting .289 overall and slugging .439. They've pounded out 43 doubles, two triples and 10 home runs en route to scoring 99 runs, an average of 6.6 per game, just about in line with what Birmingham's Lobos usually produce. The CNT has scored at least five runs in all but four games.
As the team now enters the truly challenging aspect of its summer, with a trip to Cuba following the tournament in the Netherlands, Birmingham is truly enjoying the experience.
“We had 10,000 fans come out to our game against Chinese Taipei in Durham on the Fourth of July," he said. "We broke the game open against them in the ninth and all the fans were going nuts and shouting ‘USA!’ That was pretty cool.”
Team USA's first game this weekend is Friday against Japan at 11 a.m. MT.