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USA Olympic Team in North Carolina - Game 2

United States National Baseball Team versus the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team—Game 2

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In preparation for the Olympics, Game 2 of the exhibition series between the United States National Baseball Team and USA Baseball Collegiate National Team was held at Durham Bull Athletic Park. The DBAP, as it is known, is the home ballpark of the Tampa Bay Rays AAA team in the Triple-A East League—the Durham Bulls.

As mentioned in an earlier DRaysBay article, Durham Bull Athletic Park is one of the top ranked Minor League stadiums in the country and located in an interesting historic downtown section of Durham called the Tobacco Road Complex. The photo above shows the main entrance to the ballpark. I think of it as the Mecca of Minor League Baseball—a destination that must be visited to attend a game by any serious baseball fan.

The entrance to the historic Tobacco Road Complex, which is shown above, is just across the street from Durham Bulls Athletic Park and a few minute walk up through it is well worth making an early arrival for a game.

The buildings are the former home of the American Tobacco Company. Note the old time water tower at the back toward the middle of the photo. The writing on it is the name of an old time cigarette “Lucky Strike.” Also, there are a number of interesting restaurants in the Tobacco Road Complex or near the baseball stadium. In fact, right behind the tall blue monster left field wall of the ballpark is the Tobacco Road Sports Café. It has a large outside seating area which offers a great view of the action on the ball field and/or post game fireworks.

As mentioned in my earlier DRaysBay posts about the USA Baseball United States National Baseball Team, I also attended game 2 of their exhibition series at the DBAP. Next, I will highlight the action and key players of that game.

United States National Baseball Team versus Collegiate National Team at Durham Bulls Athletic Park—July 19, 2021

Game 2 of the Team USA versus Collegiate National Team exhibition series took place on Monday July 19th. That day, the Collegiate National Team was the home team and the United States National Baseball Team the visitors. However, as you will soon see, the Collegiate Team wore gray uniforms and Team USA white uniforms. Also, it was a full 9 inning game.

The photo above shows the players of both teams lined up on the field after being introduced and prepared for the singing of the National Anthem. Note that the twenty-four United States National Baseball Team players plus their manager Mike Scioscia and coaches are standing on the third base line.

On the other hand, all members of both the Stars and Stripes Collegiate National Teams are positioned on the first base line. Note that team USA is wearing the white uniform that is traditionally worn by the home team.

Collegiate National Team starting pitcher Brandon Sproat

In this game, the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team sent right hand pitcher Brandon Sproat to the mound as their starter. Sproat pitched for the University of Florida Gators baseball team during the 2021 college baseball season. On the other hand, Team USA sent a former major leaguer righty Nick Martinez to the hill. Martinez had pitched in the majors with the Texas Rangers during four seasons. But, in 2021 he played in Japan with the Nippon Ham Fighters in the Nippon Professional Baseball League.

Unlike game 1, this game was primarily a duel between the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team and United States National Baseball Team pitching staffs. In fact, at the end of the fifth inning the game was still tied at 0-0. Brandon Sproat pitched just the first three innings for the Collegiate National Team, but he threw no-hit innings. His overall pitching stats for that stint were 0 runs, 0 hits, 3 base on balls, and 1 strikeout. In the third inning, he walked the first Team USA batter he faced and with two down walked another to put a runner in scoring position at second base. But Sproat retired the next batter to shut down that potential rally.

In the fourth, left hander Christopher Villaman entered the game for the Collegiate National Team. Villaman has a connection to college baseball in North Carolina. During the 2020 and 2021 seasons, he pitched for the North Carolina State Wolfpack baseball team. He pitched just that one inning. However, he gave up the first hit—a 1 out double to Team USA’s number 5 hitter, left fielder Patrick Kivlehan. Villaman walked the next batter to put runners on first and second base, but then struck out the next hitter for another scoreless inning.

Next, Jaxon Wiggins (RHP) took the mound for the collegiate team in the top of the fifth inning. Wiggins pitched his first season of college ball for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks in 2021. This time Team USA loaded the bases with 2 outs, but again without getting a hit (a walk, E6, and another walk). But then Wiggins retired the side by getting number 5 hitter Patrick Kivlehan to fly out to center. So through the first five innings, the Collegiate National Team allowed the United States National Baseball Team eight base runners, but only 1hit.

Meanwhile, Nick Martinez pitched the entire first five innings for Team USA. Martinez threw 1, 2, 3 first and third innings. In the second inning, he gave up two singles; had runners on first and third base with one out; but successfully retired the side. Then in the fifth, Martinez again allowed two singles that put runners on first and second with 1 out. This time he struck out the next two batters to close out the inning. Martinez’s overall pitching stats for his five inning stint were 0 runs scored, 5 hits, 0 base on balls, and 9 strikeouts.

However, things changed when the United States National Baseball Team came up to bat in the top of the sixth inning. Jaxon Wiggins had returned to pitch a second inning for the Collegiate National Team. He retired the first batter he faced, but then gave up back to back singles to Team USA’s number 8 hitter Tim Federowicz (DH) and #9 hitter Nick Allen (SS) to put runners on first and second base. That brought Team USA’s leadoff hitter, center fielder Jack Lopez to the plate. Wiggins walked him to load the bases.

Second baseman Eddy Alvarez at the plate in the fifth inning.

But, then Wiggins was replaced by Adam Stone (RHP, Harvard University). The first batter he faced was Team USA’s game 1 offense leader, number 2 hitter, second baseman Eddy Alvarez. Alvarez came through again, but this time with and RBI walk. The photo here shows him watching a Stone pitch that he took for ball 4. That base on balls forced in Tim Federowicz from third base with the first run of the game. On that play, the United States National Baseball Team walked out to a 1 run to 0 lead.

Up 1-0, the United States National Baseball Team turned the game over to their relief corps. The second half of the game was all about Team USA’s relief pitching.

Right hander Anthony Carter, who pitched in the Mexican League in 2021, came in to pitch in the bottom of the 6th and threw two 1, 2, 3 innings, while striking out 3 of the six batter he faced. He was replaced by righty Ryder Ryan for the start of the bottom of the 8th inning. In 2021, Ryan pitched AAA ball for the Texas Rangers team in the Triple-A West League—the Round Rock Express. However, he also had a connection to NC college baseball. Before entering the 2016 First Year Player Draft, Ryan pitched for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, NC. He also pitched a 1, 2, 3 inning, but struck out each of the three batter he faced.

Meanwhile, the Collegiate National Team’s relievers were also keeping Team USA’s offense in check. In the 7th through ninth innings, three relievers Reggie Crawford (LHP, University of Connecticut), Carson Palmquist (LHP, University of Miami), and Landon Sims (RHP, Mississippi State University) pitched shutout innings. Crawford threw a 1, 2, 3 7th inning. However, the United States National Baseball Team tried to rally in the 8th versus Palmquist.

With two down, #8 hitter Tim Federowicz (DH) and #9 batter Nick Allen (SS) hit back to back singles. On the play, Federowicz advanced to third base, but Allen also took second on the throw in. That brought up leadoff hitter center fielder Jack Lopez. But with Lopez at the plate, Palmquist picked Allen off second base for the third out.

Then, in the top of the ninth inning, Sims gave up a leadoff single to Team USA’s #2 hitter, second baseman Eddy Alvarez, but he got erased from the bases when #3 hitter Todd Frazier (3B) hit into a double play. Landon Sims retired the side by getting cleanup hitter Triston Casas (1B) out on a pop up to short.

Team USA closer David Robertson.

So entering the bottom of the 9th inning, Team USA still led 1 run to 0. Manager Mike Scioscia brought in closer David Robertson. Robertson did not play professional baseball in 2021, but after making his Major League debut with the New York Yankees on June 29, 2008 pitched exclusively as a reliever in the majors for twelve seasons.

During his career, he made 691 pitching appearances and every one of them was in relief. Also, he evolved into one of the better closer in the game and recorded over 40 saves in 2014 with the Yankees and both 2015 and 2016 with the White Sox. During his overall career, he recorded 137 saves. The photo shows David Robertson delivering a pitch to the plate in the game at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

Robertson had to face the heart of the Collegiate National Team’s batting order in the bottom of the ninth. The first batter Robertson faced was #3 hitter, second baseman Jace Jung (Texas Tech Red Raiders). He lined out to center field for out 1. That brought cleanup hitter, left fielder Gavin Cross (Virginia Tech Hokies) to the plate. He struck out for out 2. Next, Kyle Teel (University of Virginia Cavaliers) came up as a pinch hitter. Robertson also struck him out to close out the game as a 1 run to 0 victory for the United States National Baseball Team. Nick Martinez, who had pitched five complete innings and departed after Team USA scored their single run in the top of the sixth inning got the win and David Robertson recorded a save.

I did not attend game 3 of the series, which took place on Tuesday July 20th at the USA Baseball Training Complex in Cary, NC. However, the United States National Baseball Team also won that game. The final score was 5 runs to 2. Their game winning run 3 was scored in the bottom of the 4th inning. Number 9 hitter, shortstop Jake Allen led off and doubled. With two down, he scored on an RBI single by #3 hitter, designed hitter Todd Frazier.

The winning pitcher was Shane Baz, who as introduced in my early United States National Baseball Team Roster post on DRaysBay, is a member of the Durham Bulls pitching staff. In that game, Baz pitched innings three through five and allowed 0 runs on 3 hits, while walking 0 and striking out 6 Collegiate National Team batters. Again, David Robertson closed out the game. He pitched a 1, 2, 3 inning and struck out each of the three batters he faced to record his second save of the series.

Overall Series United States National Baseball Team Offense Leaders

USA Baseball’s website includes a set of cumulative United States National Baseball Team offense and pitching statistics totals for the three game series versus their Collegiate National Team.

A review of that data clearly shows that two players were the leaders of Team USA’s offense during the series—number 9 hitter, shortstop Nick Allen and #2 hitter, second baseman Eddy Alvarez. I highlighted Alvarez as a team offense leader in my prior DRaysBay post for Game 1. So here I will focus on Nick Allen.

Shortstop Nick Allen at the plate in game 2 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

During the 2021 season, shortstop Nick Allen played for the Oakland Athletics team in the Double-A Central League—the Midland RockHounds.

On opening day of the 2021 season, he was Midland’s starting shortstop and hit in the leadoff slot in their batting order. He quickly moved down to be their #2 hitter and started at either second base or shortstop. Relative to the United States National Baseball Team players that played at the AA class in 2021, he had the best first half season offense prior to leaving to join the Olympic team.

Upon joining Team USA on July 16th, he ranked #1 among all qualifying players on the RockHounds in five standard offense statistic categories: H (65), AVE (.319), OBP (.374), SLG (.471), and OPS (.845). Moreover, Nick Allen ranked in the top 10 among all qualifying players in the Double-A Central League in each of those five stats—H (#6-tied with two others), AVE (#2), OBP (#9), SLG (#10), and OPS (#10).

Nick Allen then had an exceptional series at the plate for Team USA. Allen hit 9th in their batting order, but out of that slot he still served kind of a top of the order table-setter hitting role in their lineup. He ranked or was tied for number 1 on the team in six stat categories: H (5-tied with Eddy Alvarez), 2B (3), AVE (.714). OBP (.800), SLG (1.143), and OPS (1.943).

It was a short series, but his AVE, OBP, SLR, and OPS are high enough numbers that it must be recognized. Naturally, he played a key role in the scoring of the game winning run in both games 2 and 3. In fact, in game 3 he doubled and then scored the eventual game winning run.

The US Olympic Baseball team plays its first game in Tokyo on Friday at 6AM ET.

Walter Triebel is the author of “Road-Tripping the South Atlantic League: A Guide to the Teams, Ballparks and Cities” published by McFarland. It is available for purchase on their website as well as Amazon. Walter previously spent 15 years as an adjunct faculty member at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and has led an extensive career as a textbook and reference book author. You can follow him on twitter here.