USA Baseball Presents Special Opportunity for Ned Yost, Royals
Yost, manager of the Kansas City Royals, recently made an appearance here at the Pan Am Qualifying Tournament to watch and offer support to the organization's record six players on Team USA. Yost, appointed in mid-May and extended for two years through 2012, feels the organization is about where it needs to be for success in large part because of its promising youngsters.
Yost, who previously served as a coach for 12 years in Atlanta when the Braves built themselves into a perennial power, also believes in Team USA's approach and the benefits of international baseball in player development.
That's why Yost hustled to this Caribbean destination only days after the Royals ended their regular season. Royals general manager Dayton Moore, credited with upgrading the organization's draft picks and farm system, also watched games prior to Yost's arrival.
"It's nothing but a benefit for these kids to play in this environment and play in an atmosphere like this where you are not only playing for your country, the development and the experience of it is one that you just can't get," Yost told Fanhouse.
"I think it's a tremendous experience; we are real proud to have six kids playing in this environment and playing on this team. We just think it's going to make them much, much better ball players for our organization because they are here."
Since 1999, USA Baseball has been selecting teams of professional-level minor and major league players to represent the United States in various international competitions, including the World Baseball Classic and the IBAF Baseball World Cup.
USA Baseball, a million dollar business, means business on the field.
Team USA, managed by former big leaguer and Olympic Gold medalist Ernie Young, has accomplished its main priority here despite losing to the Dominican Republic 7-2 in Wednesday's semifinals.
Team USA, which had won all nine of its games in two rounds of pool play, meets Venezuela on Wednesday afternoon for third place. Cuba plays the Dominican in the finale.
Still, by finishing in the top seven, Team USA has qualified for the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, tentatively scheduled for next October. Additionally, Team USA's top-six finish guarantees it a spot in the 2011 IBAF Baseball World Cup, also next fall.
"This is our livelihood, this is what we do for a living. It's not a hobby," said Paul V. Seiler, the passionate and intense Executive Director/CEO for USA Baseball who is known to pace around a stadium during games.
"We just don't put teams together to just go play in a tournament. The thing is we wear the wins and losses a little differently than being successful in a tournament or not being successful. That means we are either being successful at our job or not being successful."
Of course, Team USA is known for its success.
Among the first teams of professional players that USA Baseball fielded was the 2000 U.S. Olympic team, managed by Tommy Lasorda at the Sydney Games. Led by pitcher Ben Sheets and Young, an outfielder, the team of minor-league players defeated Cuba for the gold medal.
Recent highlights for the professional team include World Cup gold in 2007 and 2009, teams which featured young stars like Pedro Alvarez, Evan Longoria, Colby Rasmus and Justin Smoak. The organization also fields 14U, 16U, 18U, Collegiate and Women's National Teams.
Naturally, each team is connected by the name on the front its jerseys. The U.S. of A. It's a privilege for players, a target for opponents. Seiler says the organization and its teams embrace the pressure and expectations that accompany them in international competition.
"We get it because we earn it," Seiler said. "If we weren't winning then maybe ... that's a good badge to wear, that's a good target to wear."
Added Yost: "Team USA does a nice job of making sure these kids are focused on the name on the front of the jersey more than the name on the back of the jersey which is important to winning, too."
The roster for this Pan Am Qualifying Tournament includes some of the best prospects in the minor leagues who are not on 40-man rosters, including the Royals' contingent of pitchers Tim Collins, Danny Duffy, Mike Montgomery and Everett Teaford, as well as infielders Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.
This highly touted half-dozen all played with Double-A Northwest Arkansas and/or Triple-A Omaha in 2010 and is projected to make an impact in Kansas City as soon as 2011.
USA Baseball also supplemented the prospects on the roster with a solid slew of veterans, including several with big league and Team USA experience. That group includes 2008 Olympic Team alum Brian Barden (Marlins) and first baseman/DH Brad Eldred (Rockies).
The team hasn't had much time for introductions. It has had to come together quickly over a 20-day span, including practice, and adapt to the international landscape. When the tourney ends Wednesday, players will scatter to Winter Baseball Leagues, Fall Instructional Leagues or home for a quick offseason.
"The intensity of the international game, every pitch means so much, every at-bat means so much and every game means a ton," Barden explained. "To come out here and be mentally prepared for this type of environment prepares us for the big leagues. It's all about winning. Stats are great but at the end of the day, it's whether you got a W or not."
USA Baseball, working with Major League Baseball administrators and team personnel, determines the rosters for the World Cup, World Baseball Classic and other USA Baseball professional teams. Ed Lynch, a former big leaguer and general manager of the Chicago Cubs, and currently a scout for the Toronto Blue Jays, helps in the detailed selection process.
"When you have that USA across your chest, everything changes," Lynch said.
"A lot of these guys check their ego at the door and they want to win. They want to show the rest of the world that this is our game, we are the best at it and we want to win. I think that's a great development tool; it brings out the best of these players."
No wonder Yost, also a former manager with the Milwaukee Brewers, wanted to watch from the stands.
"These kids are successful for a reason because they have great talent but they also have great makeup and have great work ethic," he said. "I've been gone all summer in Kansas City. The season ended, I had press conference, I had to speak to sponsors. I've been home one day, but it was so important for me to come down and see these kids that it's worth it.
"I will rest later."