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USA team lives in pro shadow

By Chris Jackson
Arizona Summer Wildcat
July 21, 1999
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Arizona Summer Wildcat

The U.S. national team has always been made up of the best college players in the country. At least until this year.

This year, USA Baseball created two teams, one made of college stars, and the other made up of Minor League Baseball players not on Major League teams' 40-man rosters.

The idea was to have the professional team compete at the Pan Am Games, as the U.S. needed to finish first or second in order to qualify for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

This weekend saw both the college national team and the professional Pan Am team go head-to-head at Hi Corbett Field. The pros won, 7-1, and will face the Cubans, Dominicans and other teams from the Americas in Winnipeg, Canada, starting Sunday. The college players are left behind.

"I think the only problems is you don't know what you're fighting for anymore," said Keoni DeRenne, the U.S. national team's shortstop and a UA junior. "But I think anytime you put on the U.S. uniform you have to have a sense of pride. It's still the elite college players out here."

DeRenne said the focus has shifted from fighting for the U.S. and taking on the world to simply displaying the best college baseball talent to the world.

"I'm not too disappointed," he said. "It's in the best interests of the country to send the best players we can to the (Pan Am) games. That way we can get in the Olympics."

DeRenne cited two factors as to why the U.S. has decided to use professionals: other countries are now using professional players, and the wooden bat.

"The wooden bat comes into play," he said. "College players just don't do as well hitting for power with it."

DeRenne's U.S. and UA teammate, sophomore right fielder Shelley Duncan, agreed.

"To go from metal to wood is tough," he said. "If we had college players using wood against pros from other countries we wouldn't qualify."

DeRenne also talked about the public's view if the U.S. didn't qualify for the Olympics.

"If we sent college players and didn't make it, I think there'd be a big outcry among the public that the U.S. wasn't in the Olympics in baseball," he said.