For the first time in six years, the USA collegiate national team will play in Columbia.
Team USA makes a stop at Capital City Stadium on June 26 to play the Columbia Blowfish, the city’s summer collegiate team in the Coastal Plain League.
Blowfish manager Jonathan Johnson has talked with his players about the opportunity that awaits them.
“It’s not every day that you get to go up against the best and prove that you’re just as good as them,” Johnson said.
The collegiate national team, guided this summer by Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn, features 33 invited players who will form the 24-man roster that will compete in exhibition games across the nation as well as overseas against teams such as Chinese Taipei, Japan and Cuba. Invitees include Clemson catcher Chris Okey, College of Charleston pitcher Bailey Ober, and The Citadel closer Skylar Hunter.
Team USA also played at Capital City Stadium in 2006 to 2008, and USA Baseball general manager Eric Campbell said that long-standing relationship with Blowfish owner Bill Shanahan played a role in returning to Columbia.
“Bill has always done a great job, whether it’s with his minor league clubs or summer collegiate clubs. This is a good facility. We’re glad that we’re going to be here,” Campbell said. “We want there to be a great buzz in the stadiums. It’s a win-win for everybody – the fans, the franchise, and USA baseball. We like to play in front of a lot of fans in good venues, and the Coastal Plain League has them.”
Team USA traditionally fields a roster of top-level players who recently have completed their freshman and sophomore seasons for their college teams. Many are projected to be high MLB draft picks in coming years.
“It’s always exciting to see the top talent. I hope we have a good turnout,” Johnson said. “It’s cool to get to see these guys before they become something. You don’t know who it is right now, but you keep that (game) program, because in five or six years there’s going to be a handful of those guys playing on TV that you can tell your kid, ‘Hey, that’s the guy who signed your ball.’ ”
Former South Carolina catcher Grayson Greiner played on Team USA last summer before putting together an All-America season for the Gamecocks. He signed with the Detroit Tigers after being drafted in the third round this month. Clemson’s Okey, a full-time starter at Clemson as a freshman, will get the chance to do something similar.
“He can really, really catch,” Campbell said. “Of our pool of players who are non-draft eligible, he’s got the best defensive skills of anybody in the country. He’s going to be the top catcher going into the 2016 (MLB) draft.”
The game will be played at 7:05 p.m. next Thursday. Tickets start at $6 for adults and $5 for kids.