by Mike Potter
At least it's over.
USA Baseball's National Team finished a four-game sweep of Guatemala on Saturday night with an 18-1 victory that wasn't a bit out of context.
Arkansas' Andy Wilkins (pictured) hit a 435-foot grand slam while Sonny Gray of Vanderbilt was the winning pitcher as the home team rocked the Quetzals for a fourth straight night in front of a full house at Durham Bulls Athletic Park on the city's traditional July 4 fireworks night. Team USA players all wore No. 4 jerseys saluting Lou Gehrig on a night Major League Baseball used to promote awareness of ALS.
While Wilkins' slam in the fifth inning was certainly a big hit and an exciting hit, it certainly wasn't a key hit.
In the National Team's four wins over Guatemala in Kannapolis, Cary and Durham, the USA scored a total of 61 runs to the visitors' two. That score would make for a very, very miserable football game.
Now, the experience was a good one for the Guatemalans. They have a 16-year-old center fielder named Manuel Hernandez who must be the best young player in his country, and you'd think he'll have a chance to play college or pro ball in the states some day if he wants.
And as USA manager Rick Jones of Tulane said, he keeps stressing to his players is that their job is to play the game and not the opponent.
To their credit, they're doing just that.
They began their tour with five games against an overmatched Canadian 18U team that is trying to develop players for international competition, and the Canucks are on track to do a very good job in that regard. When they send a higher-level team to Cary to take on the USA Professional team in September in preparation for the World Cup, that will be almost certainly be a competitive and entertaining series.
But the Guatemalans just don't have the level of developed talent available to put together a competitive game against the Red, White and Blue. Not even with their ace Marlon Claveria on the mound, or with Al Yevoli, a pitcher borrowed from High Point University, to back him up.
USA Baseball got the two best international opponents it could find for the games in the Triangle. And what has happened in the season so far is certainly not the fault of the men who run the show in Durham and Cary.
The most entertaining, competitive matchups at the collegiate level are always going to be against one of the Asian "Big Three" - Japan, (South) Korea or "Chinese Taipei," which is the internationally sanctioned designation for the guys representing the Republic of China - or against Cuba.
The USA will indeed play the Japanese this summer in their 37th Friendship Series, with all five games in Japan. That's the way that always works. Japan actually won the series - for the first time ever on American soil - at DBAP in 2007, and that fact plus the fact that Japan has won the last two World Baseball Classics should grab the Americans' attention.
Korea and Taipei declined to come to the Triangle this season, with the broken world economy cited as the main reason. As for Cuba, the relationship is not quite so warm and fuzzy since that anachronism of an embargo against that country over two generations is ridiculously still in place.
Team USA's schedule continues today at 2:45, with a game against the all-stars of the New England Collegiate Baseball League in Manchester, N.H. Coastal Carolina's Cody Wheeler will be on the mound for the National Team, in what will be the first game this season against outside competition that the Red, White and Blue has a reasonable chance to lose. The contest precedes an Eastern League game between the New Hampshire Fisher Cats and the Portland Sea Dogs, with fireworks to follow. Should be a heck of a show.
The USA's win streak is now at 33 games.