Local baseball players take the stage for USA Baseball

Temecula’s Kelsie Whitmore helps the 2019 Women’s USA National Team win gold last month at the COPABE Women’s Pan-American Championships. Courtesy photo

Thousands of baseball players, ranging from ages 11 and up, embarked on a number of nationwide USA Baseball tryouts over this summer. They hoped to don a red, white and blue uniform for the 2019 international games, as well as this year’s National Player Development program. The Temecula Valley has had great representation in the past, especially at an international level, as quite a few local players have actually stepped foot on the world stage for Team USA. This year, even more local players answered the call after getting the opportunity.

Founded in 1978, USA Baseball, the governing body for amateur baseball in the United States and a member of the U.S Olympic Committee, organizes the United States national baseball teams every year, and a number of those teams will compete over the summer.

The various teams, composed of youth players, middle and high school aged players as well as college and professional baseball players, have been competing nationally and internationally for years with the objective of competing in the Olympics. The game was last played in the Olympics and in front of the world in 2008, but was voted out before 2012, under the claim that the American-born sport was not as competitive around the world. A new resurrection is expected to come in 2020.

Currently USA Baseball houses a developmental program which caters to a 12U National Team, players ranging in the 14U-18U category, as well as the Collegiate National Team, the Women’s National Team and the professional team.

The National Team Development Program offers identified athletes an opportunity to connect with USA Baseball staff to better prepare for a future national team experience. The program includes skill development sessions, off-field education seminars and intrasquad Stars versus Stripes games to assist in the development of the athletes as a person and a player. Athletes are selected to compete at the National level based on their performance at USA Baseball Identification events, including the National Team Identification Series, the Futures Series and the Futures Invitational.

Early on in the summer months, USA Baseball revealed the names of players chosen to participate in events for each age group, starting with the 2019 12U National Open. This event was held from July 13-15 at William S. Hart Pony Baseball and Softball Park in Santa Clarita.

Local players from in and around the Temecula Valley that were chosen included Zachary Aleman of Murrieta, Sean Downs of Temecula, Estevan Rodriguez of Temecula, Landon Scott of Temecula and Gavin Fien of Temecula. At the conclusion of the National Open, the final 18-man 12U National Team roster was announced and included Temecula’s Gavin Fien (SS/RHP). Team USA went on to compete for a record fourth-consecutive world championship title at the 2019 World Baseball Softball Confederation U-12 Baseball World Cup in Tainan, Taiwan, from July 26-Aug. 4. The 12U team lost a crucial game early, which took them out of contention. They concluded the 2019 WBSC Baseball World Cup with a 6-2 overall record

The 2019 15U National Team Trials roster came out following the conclusion of the 15U National Team Championships in Arizona and Florida. Phase I of the 15U National Team Trials were held at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina, from July 26-28, and included Bryan Martinez of Menifee, Christopher Paciolla of Temecula and Mikey Romero of Menifee. Phase II of 15U Trials began July 29 and included only 34 athletes that were selected to compete for a spot on the final 20-man national team roster. Menifee’s Mikey Romero, who played at Vista Murrieta High School in the spring, was the only player of the three to get selected to the final roster.

The 2019 15U National Team competed in the 2019 COPABE U-15 Pan-American Championships from Sept. 13-22, in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. Team USA was the three-time defending gold medalists in the U-15 Pan-American Championships in 2013, 2015 and 2017 and most recently won its first-ever WBSC U-15 Baseball World Cup title in 2018. This year’s team won gold with a 3-1 victory over Panama and finished the tournament with an 8-1 record, outscoring their opponents 66-33. The win marks the fourth consecutive U-15 Baseball World Cup Qualifier gold medal for the red, white and blue in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019, and the third straight international title after they won their first-ever world championship at the 2018 WBSC U-15 Baseball World Cup.

The 2019 36-man 16U National Team Development Program roster was unveiled following the conclusion of the National Team Championships in Arizona and Florida this past summer. The second-annual 16U National Team Development Program was held at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina, from July 31 to Aug. 5. The roster was made up of 36 athletes who were identified and selected based on their participation and performance at USA Baseball sanctioned events. Twenty-six invitees were new to USA Baseball national team programming in 2019, including Tyler Gough of Perris and David Horn of Murrieta.

The 2019 17U National Team Development Program roster was put out following the conclusion of the National Team Championships in Arizona and Florida and was once again held in Chicago, Illinois, for the fourth consecutive year from July 20-25. The highlights featured intrasquad scrimmages at Wrigley Field, Northwestern University, the University of Notre Dame and Miller Park. No local players were selected this year.

The 20-man 18U National Team, which did not feature any local players this year, competed in the 2019 World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup in Gijang City, South Korea, from Aug. 30-Sept. 8, and played for its record-fifth consecutive WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup gold medal. They have won the last four events in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2017 and have won eight straight international tournament titles dating back to 2011. This year they went 7-2 and finished with a silver medal after falling to Chinese Taipei, 2-1, in the championship game Sunday, Aug. 8.

Finally, USA Baseball also revealed the 34-player 2019 Women’s National Team Development Program roster this past summer for the players that headed to Carrollton, Texas, from Aug. 7-10. These athletes represented 17 different states and 16 of the 34 invitees represented the U.S. on previous Women’s National Teams. The roster featured 15 members of the 2018 Women’s National Team that competed at the World Baseball Softball Confederation Women’s Baseball World Cup, as well as six athletes that helped the U.S. claim gold at the Toronto 2015 Pan-American Games including Jade Gortarez of Riverside, Brittany Womack of Escondido and Temecula’s own Kelsie Whitmore.

Gortarez, Womack and Whitmore joined 17 other women on the final 20-player roster for training in Carrollton, Texas, from Aug. 11-14, before traveling to Aguascalientes, Mexico, to compete in the COPABE Women’s Pan-American Championships Aug. 18-25. The event served as a qualifier for the 2020 WBSC Women’s Baseball World Cup, with each of the top four finishers at the Pan-American Championships earning a bid to next year’s world championship tournament. This year’s U.S Team won gold with an 8-5 victory over Venezuela at Estadio de Beisbol Alberto Romo Chavez in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Team USA will be joined by Canada, Mexico and Venezuela at the 2020 World Baseball Softball Confederation Women’s Baseball World Cup. The U.S. outscored its opponents 124-20 during tournament action. It is their fifth overall gold medal and the first since defeating Canada in the Toronto 2015 Pan-Am Games.

Visit www.USABaseball.com for the most up-to-date news about the all of the national teams.

JP Raineri can be reached by email at sports@reedermedia.com.