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July 23, 2007

Team USA passes halfway mark

When the college baseball season comes to an end, there are some that head to the Cape Cod League, Northwoods League or Texas Collegiate League. There are others that continue a strenuous schedule by competing worldwide with Team USA.

Though tiring and competitive, there's no higher honor than representing the United States of America on the baseball diamond.

Just ask current Team USA coach Mike Weathers, who previously served as an assistant during the summer of 2003.

"Being the head coach is an honor that I hoped would happen since serving as an assistant in 2003," Weathers said. "The process of picking the team was difficult, but I thought we compiled a club with the best players available."

Before competing on the international stage, the Americans faced a barrage of New England Collegiate League teams during preseason action.

Team USA then took four of five from Chinese Taipei before suffering a series loss to talented Japan. It was their first-ever series loss to the Japanese.

"I thought the short preseason against the NECBL teams brought us together," Weathers said. "During that time we learned who we were. The Japan series was difficult to handle, but I thought it woke the team up."

After the Japan series served as a wakeup call, the Americans faced many challenges during the Pan American Games. Not only were the teams competitive, but scheduling issues throughout the tournament tested the Americans' endurance.

Despite the uncertainty, Team USA reached the Gold Medal game, where they dropped a heartbreaking 3-1 decision to Cuba.

"The Pan American Games has been the toughest part of our schedule so far," Weathers said. "The field conditions in a foreign country were something our players weren't used to. However, the dining and lodging facilities in the villages were more than satisfactory."

Besides gaining experience against international competition, the college players are also learning to manage their time more effectively.

"Our current schedule is so much different from what a college player is used to," Weathers said. "Batting practice is earlier, you have ceremonies at different games. It certainly makes it tougher to focus than in college. The good news is that I think it's getting easier and the players are making adjustments."

With just over half of their schedule completed, Team USA is earning high marks.

"If I had to give the team a grade, I'd go with a B+," Weathers said. "The rest of the summer - especially the World Port Tournament - is very important. After winning the silver at the Pan Am Games, we want to win the World Port title.

Team USA began a five-game series against China Sunday night and came away with a dominant 10-0 victory in the series opener.

Though several players have impressed throughout the summer, few have produced more than Arkansas sophomore infielder Logan Forsythe.

Forsythe is hitting .353 with a home run and 12 RBIs.

"The most impressive hitter is probably a tie between Forsythe and Pedro Alvarez," Weathers said. "Forsythe is a true throwback player and his consistency has exceeded our earlier expectations of him."

Likewise, Alvarez is hitting .342 with three home runs and 19 RBIs. He's also slugging .548 and has a .432 on-base percentage.

Team USA faces China for four more games before playing host to The Netherlands and Russia. They will then hit the airways to compete in the World Port Tournament.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at kendall@rivals.com.