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Friday, July 3, 2009

International stage

KU’s Walz pitching for U.S.

KU pitcher T.J. Walz delivers a pitch against Oklahoma State on April 11.

KU pitcher T.J. Walz delivers a pitch against Oklahoma State on April 11.

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Last week, Kansas University pitcher T.J. Walz was in his hometown of Omaha, Neb., taking in a College World Series game at Rosenblatt Stadium when Kansas baseball coach Ritch Price called Walz’s cell phone with a surprising proposition.

The USA Baseball National Team had a shortage of right-handed pitching, and a last-minute tryout opportunity was available if Walz, a sophomore right-hander who finished with an 8-3 record and 4.70 ERA this spring, wanted it.

Despite a late arrival and modest expectations — “I definitely was not expecting to make it; I just thought I’d give it my best shot,” Walz said — he did enough in a limited time to make the 22-person roster, becoming the first player in Kansas history named to the U.S. national team.

“If I didn’t make the team, I wasn’t going to be disappointed, just because I had a fun team to go back and play with in Rhode Island,” said Walz, who was originally scheduled to spend the summer playing with Newport (R.I.) Gulls of the New England Collegiate Baseball League. “But I’m extremely happy it worked out the way it did.”

So, too, must the Team USA coaching staff.

During his only outing in intrasquad tryouts, Walz allowed one run on two hits with seven strikeouts in a four-inning start, and after making the team, followed it up with an even better outing in his first official appearance last weekend.

In 41⁄3 innings of scoreless relief Saturday against the Canadian national team, Walz struck out nine and earned the victory despite entering the game with Team USA facing a 5-1 deficit. Four days later, he pitched another scoreless inning of relief, striking out two in a 15-1 victory over Guatemala.

Currently, the team is stationed in Cary, N.C., where it recently completed a five-game series sweep of the Canadian National Team at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. And with seven games scheduled for the next seven days, life for Walz and his teammates has pretty much been relegated to baseball.

“We pretty much just see the hotel and the field,” Walz said.

The sights, however, figure to improve significantly as the summer progresses.

From July 11 to 16, the team will travel to Japan for the USA vs. Japan Collegiate All-Star Championship, and from July 18 to 26 will take part in the World Baseball Challenge in Prince Georgia, British Columbia.

In the meantime, Walz is basking in the opportunity to match up against some of the world’s top young talent.

“I think the quality of hitters (will be high),” Walz said. “I don’t know what I’m going to see, but I think more beyond the baseball aspect, just getting to take part in something bigger than yourself. The whole aspect of playing for your country I think is pretty cool.”

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