July 2, 2003
By Brian Gomez
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Less than a month after watching their collegiate seasons come to a painful end, sophomore infielders Dustin Pedroia and Jeff Larish continued one of the Arizona State baseball program's most storied traditions.
The duo temporarily exchanged their maroon and gold for the stars and stripes worn by the USA Baseball National Team. This summer's tour gives Pedroia a shot at redemption and it offers Larish a chance to polish his game in preparation for another run at Omaha.
"I'm going to play 110 percent no matter who I'm playing for," said Larish after Team USA cruised to a 3-1 win Saturday over the Arizona Junior College All-Stars in its opener at Hi Corbett Field.
Pedroia and Larish were selected from a pool of 36 college freshmen and sophomores who were invited to last week's national team trials in Tucson. Pedroia is the first player in school history to be part of the tour in back-to-back summers. Larish became the sixth Sun Devil to make the team in the past six years.
The pair join an elite group of players who have donned their nation's colors since the tour started in 1984. The list includes major-leaguers Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Giambi and Tino Martinez.
Coached by South Carolina's Ray Tanner, Team USA makes stops in nine more cities before heading to Santo Domingo for the Pan American Games. The 22-game domestic schedule includes five outings against Japan in the 32nd annual series between the countries and a handful versus Mexico in a friendship series.
The whirlwind tour holds special meaning for Pedroia, who was sidelined last July after fracturing a bone near his right eye socket in The Netherlands. Team USA went on to win the gold medal at Haarlem and later finished second at the World Championships.
"This year, I want to be there and win it all," said Pedroia, who batted .208 in 18 games last summer with two doubles and 10 RBIs. "I want to finish it out and play real well."
Pedroia hopes the tour will enable him to become a more complete player, someone who can steal bases and move runners across with the groundball. He took the first step in the right direction in the third inning Saturday by reaching on a walk, before stealing second. Larish then drove Pedroia home with a single to center field that put Team USA ahead for good.
"I got the green light to go and Jeff saw the jump I got and he just kind of took the pitch," Pedroia said. "It was cool seeing him have confidence in me stealing bases. We have confidence in him hitting with two strikes. It's how we play at ASU."
Off the field, Pedroia is serving as a role model by helping Larish get adjusted to the grueling tour that often assumes the feeling of being in the minors. He's answering questions and giving pointers, despite being about 10 months younger than his teammate.
Larish shouldn't have a problem holding his own on the wooden-bat tour, especially after a sensational sophomore season in which he became only the second player in school history to join the 70-70 club with 95 RBIs and 78 walks. Larish looked comfortable Saturday when receiving an inning-ending double play turned by Pedroia.
"He's been through this and he's experienced this," Larish said. "I'm just looking to him, bouncing some questions off and getting some feedback."
Larish is trying to refine the mental aspects of his game this summer. During the trials, he found success with wooden bats used against several All-American pitchers, like Stanford's Mark Romanczuk, Long Beach State's Jered Weaver and Huston Street of Texas.
"I'm looking to have solid at-bats every time," Larish said. "There's always something to improve on."
Fans can follow Pedroia and Larish this summer via USA Baseball's official website at www.usabaseball.com. All games will can be followed through LiveStats.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.