Bill Kinneberg is back after spending the summer with the U.S. National Baseball Team.
Aug. 17, 2007
It was a 37-game, two-and-a-half month tour and for University of Utah baseball head coach Bill Kinneberg, it ranked as one of the best professional experiences of his career. Kinneberg spent the bulk of this summer traveling with the United States National Baseball team, serving on its coaching staff and working with its pitchers.
The team was comprised of the top collegiate freshman and sophomores (the best non-draft-eligible baseball players in America), and saw them play some of the best international talent the world could throw at them. After all was said and done, the team recorded a 25-12 record, and won silver at the Pan American Games.
As for the team's pitching, Kinneberg saw his young hurlers record a scant 1.93 earned-run average as they held opposing batters to just .202 hitting. Moreover, his pitchers had a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (313-101).
"It was a great two-and-a-half months of baseball, getting to know the coaches, the players, and traveling on three different continents (North America, South America and Europe)," said Kinneberg who just returned from Holland earlier this week. "We saw a lot of the good and the bad of many different countries. But it's an experience that I cherish and I know that I will have it with me for the rest of my life."
The tour saw Team USA play multi-game series against Taipei, Japan, China and the Netherlands as well as in prestigious tournaments like the Pan American Games in Brazil and World Port Tournament in the Netherlands.
But, perhaps, of the whole experience, Kinneberg looks back at the Pan American Games as the most memorable stop on the tour. It was there that the college-aged Americans battled professionally-stocked teams from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Brazil. After winning its pool (going 4-0), the US team battled the Cubans in the championship and settled for silver as the Cubans edged the Americans, 3-1.
"The highlight for me was the Pan American Games," recalls Kinneberg. "Winning the silver was a huge accomplishment for us. When you look at the opponents we played, the players they had on those teams and the atmosphere, it was a miniature Olympics. I'm proudest of what the team accomplished in Brazil."
With teams like Cuba, Japan, the Netherlands and Taipei battling USA tooth and nail this summer, it's safe to say that baseball just isn't America's Pastime. The Global Economy has spread to the sporting world and perhaps one of the biggest U.S. exports is sport itself.
"I don't think that the Pan American Games were a good indication of the popularity baseball internationally," Kinneberg states. "It's not played a lot in Brazil but it is, just down the road, in Sao Paulo.
"In Holland, we were there during their vacation time and baseball was a big draw. The games that featured Holland drew six thousand people and the other games had three thousand fans on hand. It was a big event in Rotterdam. People traveled three to four hours just to come watch us play. The Dutch love baseball. They have loud music, dance and just have a good time at the ballpark. And, they appreciate good baseball. When they see a great play, no matter who it is, they always acknowledge it.
"Soccer is still the number one sport in Europe," Kinneberg continued. "But baseball is growing fast. Holland is getting ready for the Euro Cup which is the tournament that teams need to win in order to qualify for the Olympics."
Experiences like this go beyond game days. Working with a different coaching staff and a different crop of athletes allowed Kinneberg to get an outside look at how the game is taught.
"What you take away from an experience like this is the different ways that the players and coaches approach the game," said Kinneberg. "You see what they do differently and the different drills used to prepare everyone. We're going to try some new things with our team here at Utah and see if we get the results that we want."
While the treatment and preparation for the game is one difference Kinneberg saw, the most apparent change was the use of wooden bats.
"In international baseball, we use wooden bats," Kinneberg points out. "Wood bats make a big difference. It's a cleaner, quicker, shorter game and it becomes more strategic. I wish colleges would start using wood bats."
While the team took some time to get used to the wood bats, it did finish the tour hitting .264. The team hammered out 310 hits, 87 of which (28 percent) went for extra bases.
With impressive numbers on the mound and at the plate, it's obvious that Kinneberg had the chance to work with some of the future stars in the sport.
"There were a few who improved their stock," said Kinneberg. "They hit well with the wood bats and played well against quality competition."
However, Kinneberg also points out that this summer also served as a reality check, giving these athletes a taste of what the sport is like beyond the college level.
"The other thing I noticed is that the stress and strain of the tour really got to some of them," said Kinneberg. "Some of them were just flat worn-out at the end, and maybe it showed them that conditioning is important. These tours are a lot like a minor-league schedule. It's a lot of travel by bus, day-in and day-out. It's hard, but hopefully they take this experience and use it to their benefit when they start their minor-league careers."