by Mike Potter
COLEMAN FIELD/CARY They're coming together from 16 different major-league organizations, mostly from the Triple-A level and a few from Double-A.
But over the next few days, manager Eddie Rodriguez will have the job of molding them into a unit known as Team USA.
Twenty-three players gathered in Cary for media day this afternoon, as they begin getting ready to defend baseball's World Cup in Germany, The Netherlands and Italy next month with a series of exhibition games against Canada from Thursday through Sunday.
And there are a few familiar faces on the roster.
Outfielder Jon Weber (pictured) and right-handed reliever Jason Childers have been with the Durham Bulls all season, while left-hander Cedrick Bowers, who had been playing for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, is a former Bull.
Infielder Pedro Alvarez, who was with the Altoona Curve in the Eastern League, is a former member of the college-level USA National Team from 2006 and '07 while fellow infielder Justin Smoak, most recently with the Pacific Coast League's Oklahoma Redhawks, was also with that '07 club.
"We're representing our country first, our national pastime and the professionalism we stand for within the game," manager Eddie Rodriguez said during a lightly-attended media day event. "I've been associated with USA Baseball and I think that had a lot to do with (my selection as manager.) It's always an honor.
"For us, this level of competition is close to if not the equivalent of the Olympics. There are 22 countries participating and that's more than were in the last Olympics."
Weber has been around plenty of championship teams in the minor leagues, winter ball and independent ball. But he said putting on a jersey with "USA" across the front was a special honor.
"I found out about two weeks ago when Charlie (Bulls manager Montoyo) called me into his office and told me I was going to be on this team," Weber said. "The first time I tried the (USA) uniform on I looked into the mirror and said 'Wow, this is really happening!' I just want to make sure I leave a good impression with my play.
"Leaving the Bulls was hard. They're more than just teammates, they're like my family. We made a good run this year and I hope they can go win the championship."
Childers, too, is wearing the national colors for the first time.
"It's very exciting, definitely an honor," Childers said. "I've spent such a long time in the minor leagues. Getting a chance to represent your country and going overseas is very exciting. On a personal note, to put on your resume that you represented your country in the World Cup has got to stand out. It's sort of like an all-star team representing your country.
"I consider it once in a lifetime, especially as old as I am (34 and the oldest player on the team) and where I am in my career. I could be toward the end here.
Alvarez, a 22-year-old Vanderbilt alumnus, said it's strange having the most experience in the uniform at his age.
"It's funny from that standpoint, but I am one of the younger guys on the team," said Alvarez, who along with Smoak was a member of a National Team that finished with a perfect season two years ago. "Whenever any guys need anything I'll be there for them. My experience with (USA Baseball) has gotten better every time. We have a great group of guys.
"It's definitely a professional team - you've got your young guys and your older guys. I almost feel like I'm a freshman."
Although nobody from this season's Carolina Mudcats is scheduled to play for the USA, the Zebulon club will be represented in the tournament.
Southpaw Philippe Valiquette will be in the bullpen for Canada, while fellow lefty Alexander Smit should be a starter for the Dutch.