July 30, 2008
More than 300 fans attended the USA Olympic baseball team's first official practice on Tues., July 29 at Santa Clara University's Stephen Schott Stadium with a large crowd of media watching its every move. The USA baseball team will practice in North Carolina and play in Washington, D.C. this weekend before departing for the 2008 Beijing Olympics early next week. Santa Clara head baseball Mark O'Brien said he felt `like a kid in a candy store' hanging around the batting cage and watching Team USA practice.
"When Paul Seiler (CEO of USA Baseball) and Eric Campbell (National Team Director) called and said they would be in the area for processing, we jumped at the chance for them to practice at Schott Stadium. We are all rooting for the team to win the gold medal and what a tremendous honor for Santa Clara to be able to be a part of it by hosting their first practice," said O'Brien. "I don't know a lot about their chances, but knowing what kind of players they are, they have as good a chance as anybody at the Olympics."
O'Brien said he saw many of the players in high school and college and was impressed with a number of them on a gorgeous sun-drenched day in Santa Clara. He liked Dexter Fowler (Colorado Rockies, Double A) in the outfield. "He can really run. He can really get to it in the outfield," said O'Brien.
O'Brien also liked what he saw of Matthew LaPorta (Cleveland Indiana, Double A). "He has major power in his bat. What a great bat speed. And Jason Donald (Philadelphia Phillies, Double A) plays impressive defense as well."
"As a coach I enjoyed talking with Davey Johnson, who has won a World Series. He has a strong coaching staff with Marcel Lachemann, Reggie Smith and Rick Eckstein," added O'Brien.
"It's always good to see the skills put together with the names for the first time. We saw a number of these players at the Futures Game, but it's nice to see them all together," said Auxiliary Coach Dick Cooke (head coach at Davidson College). "Schott Stadium is a great college stadium and because the wind was blowing out the fans got to see a few balls fly out of the park."
Is the USA favored to win? "We've played Cuba very well the past two times, but we have had a different group of players both times," continued Cooke. "Davey Johnson is like Tommy Lasorda in 2000 - he is going over there to win the gold medal and these players won't know any different. I would say Cuba, the USA and Japan have to be the favorites."
"It's fun to be home and I am glad we could come to Santa Clara for practice," said John Gall, an outfielder with the Florida Marlins (Triple A) who played for O'Brien at Stanford. "I call the Bay Area home in the off-season so it's nice to be able to come back here for a couple days. I see Coach O'Brien in the off-season - he's a great coach."
Santa Clara's baseball prospect camp also attended the practice and O'Brien felt it was an important teaching point for the younger players.
"For them to be able to watch very successful players run through drills and take batting practice, it shows them what strong fundamentals can do for them as they develop in the future," said O'Brien.
O'Brien said watching Team USA practice got his juices flowing to start the 2009 season. He believes the Broncos will have a good team. "We have a lot of returnees, some quality pitchers and a quality recruiting class. If we work hard and go about our business in the right way, we can compete with everybody."