June 30, 2014
By: Matt Burkholder
CARY, N.C. - Following an 11-day try-out period with the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team and participating in the Red, White and Blue Tour, Fresno State catcher Taylor Ward has earned a spot on the final 24-man roster as announced by USA Baseball on Monday.
"We are very proud of Taylor," said head coach Mike Batesole, also a former Team USA baseball player. "We are watching him become a great player right before our eyes. His freshman year he was feeling his way through the rigors of being a college athlete, his sophomore year he took huge steps in every way, and now he is really coming into his own."
The Bulldog junior-to-be was extended an invitation on May 28 to compete for a position on the final roster, he reported to the National Training Complex in Cary, N.C. on June 19. The group of 24 features 12 hitters and 12 pitchers that will represent the United States in international competition this summer.
"It's an honor to wear the USA jersey," said Ward. "I'm so fortunate to have this opportunity. Hopefully I can take a lot of what I experience back to Fresno and empower us to win games and compete."
The Red, White and Blue tour, June 21-29, featured 32 players vying for a position on the final roster over a nine-game schedule that paired the Collegiate National Team against various teams from the Coastal Plain League, a 14-team wood bat collegiate summer league on the East Coast (North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia).
"I'm still getting a feel for the wood bat," said Ward. "Other than that it's just baseball. It's an honor to go out and play with the best players in college. I feel like you rise to their level when you're out there playing with them and they rise to your's."
The Indio, Calif., native entered the Team USA training camp with little to no first-hand experience playing with his fellow invitees, but owned familiarity with a few through competition throughout the last two years playing for the Bulldogs as well his Cape Cod summer league team, the Orleans Firebirds, that he left to try out for Team USA.
"I had not played with anyone from this team before," said Ward. "But it was like going out to Orleans, feeling them out as people. You do your best to relate to those around you and build camaraderie and bond with your team.
"Christin Stewart (Tennessee), who joined me with Orleans, flew down with me. There are a few others on teams that we [Fresno State] played this year, so there were some people I had mutual friends through that made it easier to start to gel."
Ward played seven games for the Firebirds, ex-Bulldog Jordan Luplow's team from a summer ago, after the 'Dogs concluded their season at the Mountain West Baseball Championships in Las Vegas on May 23.
In 2014 Ward was named All-Mountain West Second-Team in his first season as the Bulldogs' primary starting catcher. As a sophomore, Ward was one of three Bulldogs to start in all 57 games, including 38 at catcher and 19 as the designated hitter. For the season, he hit .320, scored 29 runs on 70 hits, including eight doubles and six home runs. Ward also accounted for 41 RBIs.
Ward's summer experience will be one that Fresno State's skipper can personally relate to, 30 years ago Batesole earned the same honor to play for Team USA in 1984 while playing for Oral Roberts, the following summer he would be drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1985 MLB June Amateur Draft.
"1984 was a long time ago," said Batesole. "I do remember we played well throughout the Caribbean and in the medal ceremony shaking Fidel Castro's hand. I remember meeting and shaking hands with maybe the greatest Olympic boxing champion of all-time, Teofilo Stevenson. But, most importantly I remember the friendships that have lasted a lifetime with the players and coaches of that 1984 team. Each year, out on the road, some of them pop into our games, and we always reminisce about the fun we had together like it was yesterday."
The Collegiate National Team opens a five-game series against Chinese Taipei at 7:05 p.m. on July 1 at the National Training Complex in Cary, N.C. The teams will play again on July 2 at Keeter Stadium in Shelby, N.C., on July 3 at BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte, N.C., and on July 4 and 5 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, N.C.
Team USA will then host a three-game set against Japan July 6-8 in Thomasville, Wilson and Wilmington, N.C., before traveling to the Netherlands for Honkbal-Haarlem Baseball Week, July 11-20. Following that tournament, the U.S. will head to Cuba for a five-game friendship series, July 23-27.
Joining Ward on the Collegiate National Team roster are five players with prior USA Baseball credentials while the other 18 will wear the USA uniform for the first time.
Alex Bregman (LSU) and Ryan Burr (Arizona State) will be serving their second tour with the squad. Three members of the team are making their debut on the collegiate roster, but have represented USA Baseball at various times throughout their prep careers. Chris Okey (C, Clemson) has played with the 2010 16U, 2011 18U and 2012 18U National Teams, while Carson Fulmer (RHP, Vanderbilt) participated with the 2011 18U National Team as well. Zack Collins (C, Miami) played with the 2011 16U team.
A total of 18 other athletes will be representing USA Baseball for the first time in their amateur careers. Completing the remainder of the roster are: Nick Banks (OF, Texas A&M), Thomas Eshelman (RHP, Cal State Fullerton), Kyle Funkhouser (RHP, Louisville), Justin Garza (RHP, Cal State Fullerton), Tyler Jay (LHP, Illinois), James Kaprielian (RHP, UCLA), Trey Killian (RHP, Arkansas), Jake Lemoine (RHP, Houston), Mark Mathias (IF, Cal Poly), Tate Matheny (OF, Missouri State), A.J. Minter (Texas A&M), Andrew Moore (RHP, Oregon State), Bryan Reynolds (OF, Vanderbilt), Dansby Swanson (IF, Vanderbilt), Christin Stewart (Tennessee), D.J. Stewart (OF, Florida State), Dillon Tate (RHP, UCSB) and Blake Trahan (IF, Louisiana Lafayette).
Remaining with the team as an alternate through its five-game series against Chinese Taipei on July 5 is Bailey Ober (RHP, College of Charleston).
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