By TOM STAD
August 1, 2008
As we draw closer to the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Beijing, Team USA has gathered at Santa Clara University to start preparing for competition. More than 300 fans attended the team’s first official practice on Tuesday at Schott Stadium, with a sizeable media contingent on hand as well. The team will travel to North Carolina over the weekend to practice at the national baseball complex and then play an exhibition series in Washington, D.C., this weekend before departing for the 2008 Beijing Olympics early next week. The U.S., Cuba and Japan figure to be the three teams in the mix for gold, but as we’ve seen in the past, anything can happen at the Olympics. I’ll preview the Olympic Tournament next week.
What a summer it has been for Fresno State’s Tommy Mendonca. The College World Series MVP won a national title as the third baseman for the Bulldogs and then got the invite to play with the U.S. National Team. This is a different squad then the one headed to Beijing and is made up of amateur players, while the Olympic team is mostly professionals.
Mendonca went 4-for-4 and added a gold medal to go along with his national championship ring as the U.S. beat Japan 1-0 in the finals of the FISU World Championships. The US had a perfect summer, going 24-0, and established a National Team record for lowest staff ERA at 0.88 (the previous mark of 1.29 was set in 2003), allowing only 13 runs (eight earned) in 84 innings and holding opponents to a .165 batting average. Team USA did not allow more than two earned runs in any game and chalked up its sixth shutout of the summer in the FISU title game.
Mendonca left for North Carolina to join his new teammates a day after returning from Omaha, and a week, later left to compete overseas. While playing for the National Team, Mendonca traveled to The Netherlands, Germany and the Czech Republic. He went 4-for-4 against Japan in the 12-inning championship game, stroking three singles and a double. He played in 21 games, starting 13, and hit three doubles and two homers while knocking in seven runs. It was the Americans’ third straight FISU title.
The Bulldogs star will return to home this week and take some time off before school starts later next month.
The Under Armour Cape Cod Baseball League All-Star Game was played on Saturday. USC junior shortstop Grant Green and junior pitcher Brad Boxberger each played a key role in the East Division’s 8-6 win. Green hit a game-tying two-run homer, while Boxberger threw a perfect ninth to earn the save.
Green’s homer was part of a seven-run eighth inning rally for the East team, but according to the CCBL website, it will probably be his most memorable home run of his career. A trio of streakers hit the field during Green’s at bat and halted the game. After the streakers came off the field, Green hit the home run on the next pitch.
Harwich’s Mark Fleury (North Carolina) also homered, putting the finishing touch on the eighth-inning scoring barrage as the East pulled off a shocking 8-6 come-from-behind victory over the West in the game, which attracted an overflow crowd of 8,629 to Veterans Field.
The West’s pitching staff had combined to allow just one hit through the first seven innings and held a commanding 6-1 leading entering the bottom of the eighth when Cotuit’s Seth Blair (Arizona State) took the hill for the West. Blair got himself in trouble early, walking the first two batters and allowing the third to reach on a single. After a strikeout, Orleans’ Tim Wheeler (Sacramento State) laced a two-run double down the right field line to cut the West’s lead to three runs.
The trio of streakers put the game on hold for a few moments before Chatham’s Green drilled the next pitch he saw to straight-away center to knot the game up 6-6. After Harwich’s D.J. LeMahieu (Louisiana State) singled, Fleury hit a high fly ball to right field that caught the wind and cleared the fence just over the glove of Hyannis right-fielder Trent Ashcraft (East Carolina), giving the East its first lead. The seven-run winning rally was the biggest single-inning offensive explosion since the All-Star Game went to the East-West format in 1988, and the two home runs in the inning marked the first time that had ever been done by one team in the All-Star Game.
Green already has a CCBL championship under his belt from his campaign last summer with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. He was named the East MVP and Ben Paulson (Clemson), who drove in two runs in the sixth, was named the West MVP. The selections were made by a poll conducted among the scores of Major League scouts in attendance.
The West stars put together a big inning for themselves in the sixth, scoring five runs off Martin Viramontes (Loyola Marymount) of Orleans. Paulson lined a pitch into the right-centerfield gap, plating two runners, and Falmouth’s Trevor Coleman (Missouri) singled in a run. Orleans’ Rich Poythress (Georgia) broke up what had been a perfect game and pulled the East even at 1-1 with a leadoff homer to right field in the fifth.
Two hours before game time, each squad sent three players to the Baseball Factory Home Run Hitting Contest. Brewster’s Connor Powers (Mississippi State), Yarmouth-Dennis’ DeAngelo Mack (South Carolina) and Orleans’ Angelo Songco (Loyola Marymount) represented the East while Wareham’s Blake Dean (Louisiana State), Hyannis’ Chris Dominguez (Louisville) and Bourne’s Kyle Roller (East Carolina) represented the West.
Mack, who was inserted into the derby lineup after an injury to Harwich’s Joesph Sanders (Auburn), does not have a home run this season, but was able to hit six in the first round, which put him in the finals. Opposing Mack was Songco, who had homered eight times in the first round.
Mack hit four to lead off the final round, but Songco hit five, using only five of his 10 outs, to win the contest. With a batting average of .308 so far this summer, he is a front-runner for the league’s end-of-the-season Most Valuable Player Award.
Tom Stad’s Amateur Hour runs every Friday here on National Pastime.